Props to the Cops/EMTs and Bystanders

Photo by PoPville flickr user Jim Havard

“Dear PoPville,

About 6 pm, I was walking up 11th Street NW. At Girard Street, I witnessed a multi-car accident (at least four moving vehicles involved, some parked cars hit, a biker nearly hit, etc.) This was kind of scary, especially because one of the vehicle’s airbags deployed, a woman got out of that vehicle and was yelling, “please come help, I have baby and my daughter inside, please help [add understandable panic here].”

One cop–a young woman–arrived on scene very quickly, and started making sure people were okay, then proceeded to try to figure out the trajectory of the vehicles and take witness information. DC Fire and Rescue sent four ambulances that arrived not long after the first cop (the number of ambulances made sense considering the number of people who were in the cars and the number of people who called 911). Additional cops arrived shortly after that. Serious props to the cops and the EMTs for their quick responses.

What occurred between (and during) the cops/EMTs showing up was one of those things that you don’t hear about often in DC. Since there were several people walking along the sidewalk at the time the accident happened, 3-4 people were immediately on their phones calling 911. When the woman started yelling, people went to her (we were all in a bit of shock)); as soon as it was clear that she and her kids were okay a couple of bystanders (including a pediatrician) stayed with them, other bystanders went to comfort the other people (drivers, passengers, etc.) that had also been involved in the accident but didn’t appear injured. Also, a big thank you to the guys who had been in the laundry mat or convenience store across the street that went to either end of the street and started directing traffic to take other streets so the cars wouldn’t drive around/thru the accident scene (which was the entire intersection) and/or traffic wouldn’t become hopelessly backed up.

Although the accident last night was bad, the upside was that it brought out the best in a lot of people, too.”

27 Comment

  • Glad to hear this was handled so well and it sounds like everyone came out ok

  • Thanks for sharing this, and good job all!

  • I’m very glad that people were helpful and that the response time was quick. This intersection is tricky, it is only a 2-way stop and it can be hard to see around the cars if you are turning from the west-bound lane, especially with the bus stop there.

    This accident also happened here — — but that’s probably a different set of circumstances.

    • I’ve lived very near this intersection for almost 10 years and I’ve seen several accidents. It’s the only intersection Basically U st (probably further south) and the end of 11th St at Spring that doesn’t have a light or a 4-way stop. I’ve seen people blow through going east/west bound on Girard without even looking twice and just as many times I’ve seen people going north/south bound on 11th stop even though there’s no sign. Maybe they should just put in a 4 way stop and call it a day.

      • Hi neighbor! – I’ve only been in this area for a few years, so I’ve seen less accidents, but it is odd that it isn’t, at minimum, a 4-way stop. I don’t think a light is necessary, but it’s not like a 4-way would really cause any major back-ups to either Harvard or Fairmont. It may actually prevent back-ups from reaching Sherman.

      • Agree completely! After yesterday’s crash I put in a request with the city for a four-way stop. You can do so under “Sign New Investigation” at this site:

    • Agreed. I used to live right near this intersection for years and the amount of unintentional stop sign running was unsettling. I of course started slowing way down at that intersection even if I had the right away because of the many instances where I thought “man, if I was just 15 seconds earlier, I’d been t-boned.” The drivers drive through not even knowing what they did.

  • smrtcar

    Silver lining stories are just as important as the caution or crisis stories. High fives all-round!

  • Nice story — good to hear how people rose to the occasion!

    • There’s a saying at the racetrack “An accident is a meteor hitting your car, everything else is a crash”

    • HaileUnlikely

      Too much Kool Aid. Many countries with better traffic safety records than ours still use accident. OSHA still uses accident. An unintended consequence of this hell bent crusade to use “crash’ rather than “accident” is to minimize the responsibility of those who design and build our vehicles and our roads. Even if it was within the power of each individual involved in the specific untoward event in question to avoid its occurrence, there is a great deal of evidence that simple, seemingly-trivial, decisions by highway engineers, planners, auto makers, and all of the professionals responsible for bringing our infrastructure into existence can have a profound impact on the number and rate of accident/crashes/bad things that happen. If we are so hell bent on blaming the parties actually present at the scene of the crash, we lose sight of the parties not on the scene who created the system that put in place the circumstances that set the scene for the crash/accident/whatever to occur.
      Prosecutors would probably be well-advised to stick to crash.

      • I agree that our engineers, planners, drivers, etc. all have a responsibility to reduce the likelihood that people crash cars. Calling it a “crash” not an “accident” helps change the conversation away from the inevitability of “sometimes shit just happens” to “something caused this mass of steel to collide with something, and therefore we should do the things that discourage it from happening again.”

        • HaileUnlikely

          I do not know any normal person who is not deeply invested in this pedantic crusade who construes the word “accident” as implying that something was inevitable. In normal speech, it is used to mean that the outcome was unintentional. It does not mean that factors that obviously contributed to the risk of the outcome were unintentional. It is funny. The National Safety Council, while strictly adhering to “crash” rather than “accident” when talking about the things we’re talking about right now, uses the word “accident” in the context of workplace safety, and I can’t even count how many construction sites I have seen with National Safety Council banners that read “Prevent Workplace Accidents.”
          While I personally am not particularly familiar with the site of this crash (ok, ok, I’ll play along for the moment and say crash), I note that several people above who are evidently more familiar with it have noted an unusually high incidence of seemingly-unintentional running of the stop sign here. It seems that the design of the intersection might be a factor that is contributing to people misunderstanding the intersection and making mistakes there, i.e., the dictionary definition of an accident, but not because sh!t happens, but rather because the engineers designed it in a way that makes foreseeable unintentional errors more likely to occur.
          Finally, while we here across the pond have been freaking out about semantics, virtually every other high-income country in the world has reduced their rates of crashes, injuries, and deaths much much more than the United States has, using “accident” all the while.

      • With all due respect (and I mean that) I cringe every time I hear this argument. Neighborhoods change, traffic patterns change, our understanding of human perception and psychology changes – all must faster and easier than we can rebuild roads. I understand the argument, but continuously re-engineering our roads to follows shifting population, development, and behavioral patterns is not something we can afford. And frankly I think it’s a total copout for people who just won’t slow down and pay attention to what they’re doing. Maybe we should also blame the TV and furniture makers for our generally unhealthy and sedentary populace? We’d be much more active as a society if the couches weren’t so damn comfortable and the screens so vivid, right?
        I maintain that we’d be at about zero accidents in residential areas if folks would drive 25, keep their eyes on the road, and follow the traffic signs. Always amazing to me how people have excuses for not doing that.

        • And by the way, I agree with you about the accident vs. crash thing.

        • I don’t think HaileUnlikely is talking about “continuously re-engineering” roads/signs/lights — just recognizing the cases in which poor design is a contributing factor in accidents.

          • I’ll wait for HaileUnlikely to elaborate on his comments, if he so chooses. But I will respond that “recognizing” is pointless if you don’t make changes, and it shifts responsibility away from the people who are in direct control of their own actions.

          • Sorry; I should have added “and making changes accordingly” — not just “recognizing.”

        • HaileUnlikely

          I completely agree that the vast majority of crashes could be prevented by drivers driving slower and paying attention. However, there are still a lot of crashes that are caused by foreseeable errors made by people who are trying to do the right thing but just fail like humans so often do. I live right by an intersection with a 2-way stop sign. It is the only 2-way stop sign in the neighborhood. All of the other stop-controlled intersections in the neighborhood are 4-way stops. Everybody who does not live there and is just driving through quickly “learns” by experience that “all of the stops around here are 4-way stops.” Except for the one that isn’t. I have seen more close calls than I can count, and three actual crashes, in which a driver who is required to stop *did* stop, looked both ways, almost certainly saw the car approaching from the other street, and then proceeded to pull out in front of it. I’d bet a paycheck that every single one of them saw that car but made the mistake of thinking, incorrectly, that it had a stop sign, like at every other intersection in the whole stupid neighborhood except that one. It doesn’t take a PhD in human factors engineering to understand how the genius engineer that designed that intersection, which fully complies with all applicable standards, set the stage for lots of people who are trying to drive safely to make the same foreseeable error, which usuallly doesn’t but sometimes does result in a crash. I’d bet another paycheck that either making this a 4-way stop or simply putting up a sign that says “Cross Traffic Does Not Stop” would solve about 98% of the problem at that specific site. But as long as we’re hell-bent on blaming the individual driver whether they did anything blameworthy or not, we still don’t have a simple sign which, if it resulted in one less crash for a police officer to waste his time investigating, would have paid for itself already.

        • HaileUnlikely

          Final comment on this. The transportation professional community created a reference document called the “Highway Capacity Manual” in 1950. The first “Highway Safety Manual” came along exactly 60 years later in 2010. I believe (honestly can’t prove, but believe) that a major contributor to the sorry state of the safety of our roadway infrastructure is that we went nearly a century without any real demand for professionals to utilize or even possess factual knowledge about the relationship between what they do and how it would affect safety.

        • There are other fields in which design can help discourage human error (or in which poor design can help cause it.) Hospitals and suppliers of medical equipment have increasingly been color-coding things like tubes and syringes to try to prevent mixups that can sometimes be fatal.

        • HaileUnlikely, appreciate the response, and all fair points. I don’t have time to elaborate my view right now, but I will say 1) I don’t think “forseeable errors” are as forseeable as you think (was there enough traffic to justify a 4-way stop back when the signs were first installed? I doubt it), and 2) better signage and such still doesn’t really help if people don’t pay attention and follow the rules. I live right by a formerly two-way stop sign intersection that had many close calls and accidents – and now it’s a four-way stop and it’s still dangerous because many drivers still blow through without stopping in the direction where there used to be no stop sign. I’m not against improving roads and bettering signage at all, but removing blame and responsibility from drivers for their mistakes makes no sense to me.
          Somehow I think we’ll get to revisit this at some point, so I’ll leave it there. Cheers!

          • HaileUnlikely

            Mostly agreed, appreciate the discussion, and I can see that we want to accomplish the same thing at the end of the day. I just don’t see the value in lumping people who made a mistake because they misread a situation despite making a good-faith effort to follow the rules together with others who were breaking the rules on purpose – they are different problems with different solutions. Somebody smarter than me once said, “Changing human behavior isn’t rocket science. It’s a lot harder than rocket science.” Cheers!

  • I saw this unfolding ahead of me as I drove up 11th Street but I turned left, home. I could not tell what was going on. This explains it. (Thanks.) I thought it was a shooting, with all the police lights, et cetera.

  • “When the woman started yelling, people went to her (we were all in a bit of shock)”

    I appreciate the sentiment, but as a bystander/witness, your shock is a bit less than those involved in the actual incident.

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