CHP advises drivers and witnesses what to do following a highway crash

A series of deadly crashes on Bay Area highways has sparked discussion over highway safety for those involved in an accident, and those who witness a wreck.

In a little more than a week, at least six people were killed outside their vehicles following an initial traffic crash or vehicle problem. In one incident, a Good Samaritan was hit and killed while trying to help a crash victim in Fremont. In another, a tow truck driver was fatally struck on the side of the road in San Jose.

The California Highway Patrol said one of the most common causes of fatalities on the freeways is distracted driving.

"It’s preventable, it’s avoidable," Officer Ross Lee with CHP San Jose said. "Anytime we have a distraction in the vehicle, it makes it almost impossible to see potential hazards in the roadway ahead."

But if you’re involved in a crash or your car is the hazard, what should you do? The answer depends on your situation and surroundings.

For example, if your car is on fire or if there is the risk of another wreck, you should exit the vehicle and get to a safe location.

However, it's typically advised that you stay in your car.

"If you can move the vehicle, move the vehicle," Ross said. "Move it out of the other lanes, move it to the right shoulder, move it off the freeway."

First responders say the right shoulder is oftentimes wider than the center median and farther away from high-speed traffic. Additionally, if the car is off the highway it is then worth considering getting out of the vehicle to seek places with added protection including behind guardrails, k-rail or even a large tree.

"If you’re able to be out of the lanes, and you’re sure you’re outside the lanes, that would be a time you could get out of the vehicle," Ross said. "The best course of action is going to be to remove yourself from the freeway if possible."

Still, the CHP said that’s not a good idea if traffic is still running at high speeds, creating unsafe conditions.

On Highway 101 in Sunnyvale Monday, three people were killed following a series of car crashes. Investigators said they got out of their cars and were walking on the highway when they were struck. Two of them were thrown across the median.

If your car is inoperable, or you don’t have a safe escape plan, first responders say to stay inside with your seatbelt fastened. They say it is the safest place to be.

"We would never advise anybody to try and actively cross active and open lanes," Ross said. "The vehicle’s going to be able to absorb the impact much more than a human body would."

Other important tips include turning on vehicle hazard lights, setting the parking brake and calling 911.

The CHP said that goes for Good Samaritans, too. They can report what they see but stay away from the danger in a safe location off of the roadway.

If a car or tow truck are on a shoulder or median, it’s advised drivers change lanes to give them space. Overall, it starts with being attentive.

"We just remind everybody to slow down, increase your following distance, make sure you leave enough following distance between you and the vehicle in front of you that you’re able to safely react to any potential hazards," Ross said.

Brooks Jarosz is a reporter for KTVU. Email him at and follow him on Facebook and Twitter @BrooksKTVU