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8 People On What It's Like To Witness A Road Crash

We interviewed eight people about their experience.

With Road Safety Week coming up, we asked people who have witnessed a road crash to share their experiences. Our actions on the road have an enduring influence on people's lives.

Witnessing an accident is a life-changer, at least in my experience.

It happened on the 12 September 2011, and it still haunts me today. I was only 16 at the time. I've always been quite an anxious person, but having this person feeling like he was dying in my arms sent me spiralling into depression, anxiety, and panic attacks. I still remember the way he looked at me while I was trying to keep him awake. The worst part is that I'll never know if he survived or not. Over the years, I've tried to look for him, but I've had no luck.

– Chiara F

I was recently one of the first people on the scene of a multi-car crash. Initially, I thought I was stuck in a traffic jam, but then I saw a plume of smoke in the air. I told my kids to stay in the car and ran to the scene. I knew heading towards something that could be on fire was not necessarily the most sensible thing, but I had to do something. I called the emergency services and stayed on the scene to speak to the people involved and the police, while regularly checking on my kids. We left as an air ambulance arrived to get a trapped victim out of their car.

I went into action mode and felt ready to do something – anything – that I'd need to do to help. I'm glad that my survival instincts kicked in, rather than leaving it to someone else, and I'm also glad that I didn't fall to pieces.

At the time, it was all about making sure people were safe and getting the help they needed. Before the accident happened, when I was at the junction, most people would've gone. But I'm a slightly cautious driver, so I waited. Had I gone, that could have been my car in a ditch. As I drove away, that realisation hit me. It was terrifying.

– Gemma W

I witnessed the aftermath of a car accident many years ago, and it has always stayed with me. A motorcyclist collided with a car and had been thrown off his bike. He was lying on the grass edge and had been covered in a sheet by an elderly woman who came out of her cottage nearby. It happened on a narrow lane, and we drove on past, as others were there to help him.

As we drove past, he looked up at me. I was only a few feet away from him, and I still remember the look in his eyes as he met my gaze. There was a small patch of blood on the white sheet. I read about the accident in the local paper, and it said the man had died in hospital.

I am in my fifties now, and this happened when I was about 17, but I still remember his face so clearly.

– Georgie S

Witnessing a car crash as a teenager, I saw everything happen in slow motion. I thought I could see a large bird flying slowly through the air, but it was actually a motorcyclist who had been hit by a car. That car then ploughed into the car right in front of ours. The car in front had my grandparents and mother in it.

It was late at night on Mother's Day, and we were driving home from a family gathering along a fairly quiet B road. I was in the car with my father, and my mother had gone in my grandparents' car. I realised that my grandparents' car had stopped suddenly in front of us. My dad and I got out of our car and ran towards theirs, and I saw the motorcyclist lying in the road and another car across the road. It all gets fuzzy from there. I remember seeing a smashed motorbike and running to the hotel down the road to get them to call the police and ambulance – this was before mobile phones were popular and reliable.

I remember feeling that I could do nothing to help anyone: my grandmother who couldn't breathe, my grandfather who was panicking, and my mother who was making sure the other driver was okay. It made me very aware of how young I was, and, in that moment, I wanted to be an adult because I wanted to be able to help – and I was so frustrated at myself. I have never felt so helpless in my life.

It was so quiet, slow, and still; it felt like I was watching it on TV. I find it hard to put the events into chronological order as everything happened at once and also out of order. Both my grandfather and mother were lucky they just had minor bruises, but my grandmother fractured her breastbone. As far as I remember, the motorcyclist recovered as well. We were so lucky that it was not more serious.

– Anon

I vividly remember witnessing an accident as a child. My mum was driving, and I was in the back. A child ran out all of a sudden, and we hit him.

I remember looking out of the window as my mum ran to the child, who was motionless. My mum immediately began to cry as a passersby stopped to help. The child was in hospital for some time, and, thankfully, he recovered in the end. For many years after the accident, my mum would go visit to check up on him.

– Anon

A couple of years ago, I witnessed a serious crash on the M40. It all happened so fast, and yet it felt like it was all in slow motion.

One minute everything was calm, and the next, carnage was sprawled all over the carriageway. I can still see the arm of one of the drivers hanging out the window and picture the faces of other drivers who were in shock. It’s something that never goes away and stays with you.

I am not sure if anyone was killed, although I assume not as I never saw any press about it. I continue to get flashbacks when I am in a car, especially when I see narrow escapes by drivers today, which happens all too often.

– Gary S

It's tragic to witness a car accident.

I was the first on the scene at a car accident on the M1 on the way back from a security consulting job, when the traffic ahead suddenly stopped. The car right in front of mine ploughed straight into the back of the queue of traffic. Those in my vehicle were all serving or ex-military, and we decided to stop to assist until the emergency services arrived. The people in the vehicle ahead were an elderly couple. The driver had an open fracture to the right leg, and the passenger, his wife, suffered internal organ trauma from the collision. At the time, we felt pretty helpless as we were unable to do anything to stabilise the female passenger: She was having difficulty breathing and was evidently in great distress. Her husband didn't understand the gravity of her condition and was encouraging her to breathe deeply.

I was later informed that the female passenger died in hospital that night, and the driver had survived. It was gut-wrenching news, and the true tragedy of the event has never left me.

– David W

Working as a first responder, I've seen many car accidents during my career. I try not to feel emotionally attached, but it becomes really difficult when you're staying with victims as you wait for paramedics, as you build a rapport with them. It's especially difficult when the victims are young.

It makes you realise the fragility of human life but also how resilient the human body can be when subject to severe trauma. I know we can proactively do so much more to prevent incidents occurring in the first place, like education in schools and driving safety events. We can also provide simple skills to our communities so ordinary people can do extraordinary things, equipping them to sustain a person's life until the emergency services arrive.

– John A

The actions you take on the road can alter the lives of so many people – and not just those directly involved in incidents. Aviva is working hard to help drivers think about their behaviour on the road by sponsoring Road Safety Week. Find out more about their mission to make Britain’s roads safer here.

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