Handling Witnesses in an Auto Accident

In investigating an accident, witness reports are often the most important tool an investigator has. Witnesses may be divided into various categories:

Types of Witnesses
1. Eye Witnesses:
Persons who actually saw the accident or mishap, or saw anything relevant to the subject matter of the investigation.
a. Drivers
b. Passengers
c. People at the scene

2. Expert Witnesses:
Technically qualified persons who may be called upon to give their opinions upon any technical question arising out of the accident/mishap.
a. Dispatch
b. Operations
c. Maintenance
d. Legal
e. Insurance Company

3. Other Witnesses:
Persons who have knowledge of facts that is relevant to the accident or the investigation.

Locating Witnesses:
It is important to obtain as much witness information at the scene as possible. Here are some tips for locating witnesses:

1. Police
2. Fire
3. News Media
4. Spectators
5. Other Witnesses (Always request the names and location of additional witnesses when interviewing.)

Interviewer Considerations
As a Safety Manager, you will be required to interview witnesses. Keep the following techniques/considerations in mind:

1. Plan the interview -ensure the interview includes/allows for:
a. Opening statement of why you are speaking to them. Stress that you only want facts.
b. Allow witness to give statements without interruption.
c. Ask additional questions as required to clear up pertinent points.
d. Provide a point of contact (name and phone number) so they may call later if additional information is remembered.
e. Thank them for their assistance.

2. Location:
Use the accident diagram to mark the location of each witness.

3. Models:
Bring along a few toy cars so the witness can show exactly what happened. People work better with something concrete to demonstrate with.

4. Control the Interview.

5. Transcript:
Make a transcript of what is said. Ask the witness to sign the statement.

6. Caveats:
Make notes to yourself as to time used, possible falsification, and credibility of the witness.

7. Corroboration:
Look carefully for corroborating points of evidence in witness statements.

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