At the Scene of the Crash:
For Pedestrians and Bicyclists Hit by Cars
What to do if you’re involved in or witness a car accident
If you are hit by a car
- DO NOT MOVE, especially if you feel pain in your neck or head. Don’t jump up or allow others to move you.
- Only a doctor, paramedic, or emergency medical technician may give medical aid before the ambulance arrives (NYPD Patrol Guide §217-01).
- Ask bystanders for help gathering facts and witness phone numbers. Speak your instructions without nodding or moving your head.
- Don’t admit fault or speculate on the extent of your injuries to anyone.
- Seek medical and legal help. Ask a family member or close friend to act as your advocate.
If you witness a crash
- Call 911 with the exact location.
- Write down what happened to the victim to help EMTs assess injury.
- Get the car license number and phone numbers of witnesses.
- Divert traffic (but don’t endanger yourself—EMTs do not want more victims).
- Do not lift or move crash victim (unless immediate danger outweighs risk of moving and permanently injuring the patient).
“Should I go to the hospital?”
Yes. You may be injured and not know it. Your medical bills will be paid by the driver’s insurance or a state fund.
Make sure the crash gets reported–preferably on the scene by the NYPD. Take your crash report number and go to the nearest public hospital emergency room. (You might also go to your preferred hospital if your own health insurer approves the visit. But note that health insurers are not required to pay medical expenses in event of a car crash; the car owner’s insurance is supposed to pay.)
Even without symptoms, you may be hurt
It doesn’t matter how you feel. What matters is the type of impact—where and how far you fell, what you fell on, how fast you were hit—or what doctors call the “mechanism of injury.” Make a note to yourself of exactly what happened to you, so you can tell the physicians.
“I think I was injured. Take me to the hospital.”
This is the safest thing to say at the crash scene.
In many cases, you will be seen more quickly if you arrive by ambulance than if you check yourself in. (It still can take several hours.) If the hospital does not find a break or other injury, no harm has been done. If an injury shows up later—say a hairline fracture that was not noticed on the X-ray—you can still be covered under the driver’s No-Fault policy. Your medical records will serve as evidence.
It is not uncommon for people to realize hours or even days after a crash that they were more injured than they thought. (See the section on “acute stress reaction” below.) Consider carefully before refusing medical assistance at the crash scene.
Even a minor concussion (i.e., a brain injury) can harm your mental and emotional functioning and your memory in the long term. Some internal injuries, whiplash, or soft tissue damage might not be immediately apparent.
Receiving medical care will support any later claim for benefits you may need to make—and you can’t be sure you won’t need to make it. If you don’t receive treatment at the time of the crash, but later need to make a claim, the insurer might cite your lack of treatment as proof that you did not sustain any injury. And if you delay treatment, any injury can be more difficult to care for and will interfere with your life longer.
If you do not go to the emergency room immediately after the crash, you can still change your mind later. Take your crash report number and go to the nearest public hospital emergency room. (To repeat: Private health insurers are not required to pay medical expenses in event of a car crash, though some might.)
No-Fault insurance covers medical bills
Do not worry about the cost of your hospital or doctor visit. The driver’s insurance will cover your medical and some other expenses. If the driver is uninsured or flees the scene, the state’s Motor Vehicle Accident Indemnification Corporation (MVAIC) should pay. (See Insurance for Pedestrians & Cyclists.) Also, all hospital emergency rooms by law must stabilize any patient in trauma, regardless of ability to pay.
But to receive No-Fault benefits, you or your attorney must ensure that your No-Fault claim is properly set up.
And you must report the crash to the NYPD or state DMV — and for hit-and-runs, do so within 24 hours.
Read up on your rights, have someone do it for you, and/or hire a lawyer. Don’t delay because you must make many crucial decisions right after the crash.
Wait for police or ambulance
Do not leave the scene before the police or ambulance get there, even if you think you weren’t injured.
The driver is required to remain on the scene and provide identification and insurance information; failure to give this information is a misdemeanor. If they leave the scene of an injury altogether, it’s a hit-and-run violation—another misdemeanor. But if the crash involves a serious injury or death, is a Class E or D felony, respectively.
If you feel a rush of adrenaline or the “fight or flight” urge, don’t act on it. This physical response to trauma is known to doctors as “acute stress reaction.” It can mask a serious pain or injury, and it can substantially interfere with your judgment.
If the driver, or anyone else, screams at or intimidates you, tell yourself not to react. It is more important to get the driver’s information so you can submit a claim. Remember what the driver says and does; you may need to include it in your claim.
Note for bicyclists: Ambulances normally do not have room to store bicycles. If you are taken by ambulance from a crash scene, the police are responsible for securing your property (just as they would do for a car if the driver were injured). The police will normally take the bicycle to the local precinct, where you or your family can claim it. Try to do so as soon as possible. After a short period, the NYPD will move the bike to a difficult-to-reach warehouse in Brooklyn.
Information you need
- Vehicle license plate number and state of issue.
- Driver’s name, birth date, and address (on driver’s license).
- Witnesses’ name, address and phone (ask them to remain on the scene).
- Police accident report number, officer’s name, precinct, and badge number.
- Vehicle’s insurance company, policy number, and expiration; vehicle make; and registered owner (from registration card).
- Name, address, and phone of passengers.
What else to do
Take notes. Document what happened as soon as you can, or ask someone to do it for you. Note location, weather and traffic conditions, anything that recreates the scene.
Preserve physical evidence. Keep torn or bloody clothing, a damaged bicycle, or other evidence from the impact.
Photograph the car and license plate if possible. Take pictures of the crash scene from different angles; include the condition of the roadway, cars parked on the street, and traffic volume. Have someone do this for you if necessary.
Keep your receipts and keep them organized.
Inform your own insurer. If you have car insurance, inform them within 72 hours of the crash, even if you were walking or cycling and not driving when struck. In the convoluted American insurance system, it is not always clear who will pay for damages. Your own auto insurer may be the one (although they can’t raise your premium for a No-Fault claim. They will likely try to collect from he driver’s insurance, but this is not your problem.)
Consider engaging a lawyer, especially if your injuries are severe.
Give only your name, contact number, and lawyer’s number to the driver’s insurer if they show up. You don’t have to (and shouldn’t yet) make a statement.
Get a crash report from the NYPD or state DMV. (See Reporting the Crash.) You must report a hit-and-run within 24 hours to be eligible for medical insurance through MVAIC.
Also see the NYCC’s Emergency First Aid for Cyclists about responding to possible head injury.
If injuries appear minor
If you are able to walk away and decide to leave the scene, you should still report the incident to the local police precinct and/or the state DMV. If you later find out you were injured, you have protected your right to make an insurance claim within 30 days (or 90 days to MVAIC). If the police don’t write a report, you’ll have no recourse should the driver give you false or incomplete information.
As noted above, if you decline medical attention at the scene, but later want to be evaluated, you can take yourself (with your crash report number) to the nearest public hospital.
If only property is damaged
You will need receipts and estimates, and possibly photographs or physical evidence, to make a property damage claim with the driver’s insurer. Property damage claims are beyond the scope of this site, which focuses on obtaining care for personal injury. However, the Nolo Press site may be useful. Also, see our page on filing and obtaining an accident report.
The New York Bike Messenger Association handbook discusses settling claims on the spot with the driver who hit you, to save time and hassle for both sides. I have heard stories from cyclists who got satisfactory compensation this way, but they tend to be very confident individuals. This alternative may be more appropriate for property damage cases of under $1,000 (when you are absolutely certain there was no injury). But never sign any document or deposit any check that has language releasing a party from further liability without first consulting an attorney.
The law requires drivers to file an accident report for any crash resulting in personal injury or more than $1,000 in property damage. If you strike a bargain with the driver on the spot, consider whether you’re going to report the crash. If they don’t report it, but you do, their license could be suspended—which they probably didn’t bargain for when they forked over that cash. It would be fairer to tell the driver you’re making a claim and then bill their insurer for your losses.
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