You’ve had a car accident with someone that doesn’t speak your language. What do you do?
Getting involved in an accident is an unpleasant situation, and that is without the added stress of not speaking the same language as the other party.
In the US there are a lot of languages spoken other than English, because of immigration and tourism. Approximately 20% of the people that live in the US don’t speak any English. But there are also cases in which English is their second language and they may not speak it perfectly.
And what are the chances of getting yourself in a car accident with someone that doesn’t speak your language, you may ask? Well, the US is one of the biggest markets for vehicle sales, because of its geography and city lineups. There are more than 280 million cars on the US roads (as data from 2020 states) and with so many people with different linguistic backgrounds, there are bound to be accidents where people don’t speak the same language.
Being in a stressful situation such as this one and not understanding each other, could lead to a lot of frustration and many more problems…
To avoid that, we present to you 5 tips if you find yourself in this situation, discover them below!
1. Assess the situation and act fast
No matter what language you speak, acting fast is key in any car accident. Checking if anyone, or yourself, is badly hurt is the most important thing to do.
Never leave the scene of the accident, as this could lead to legal issues in the future. If you are injured, don’t underestimate your pain and seek medical help as soon as possible.
In many states, it is a legal requirement to call 911 for any car accident. But even if it is not required, reporting the accident will help in your claim with the insurance.
We know that police and 911 could intimidate non-English speakers and undocumented people, but their involvement is vital to avoid any legal hassle. Emergency services should make your well-being a top priority, as the USA law requires.
If you are not seriously injured, you should utilize the time before the emergency services and police arrive to collect as much data as possible. Take pictures of everything: the accident, the damages, and even documentation from the other driver if you could get it, as all of this could serve as evidence later on. If you are not seriously injured, you should utilize the time before the emergency services and police arrive to collect as much data as possible. Take pictures of everything: the accident, the damages, and even documentation from the other driver if you could get it, as all of this could serve as evidence later on.
2. Use an interpreter or translation app
Not understanding each other can make this situation even more complicated. So you need to try to communicate, in any way you can.
You could simply ask if the other person speaks your language. And if they do know even only a little, it could be a start. There are a lot of bilingual people in the US, so you never know!
Another option is using a phone interpreter. It is important to note that voice to speech interpretation apps could make mistakes, so it is best to communicate in simple terms and be patient with one another.
For taking photos, contacting the police, and translating, your phone is probably the most useful tool in a car accident.
Another option is to ask any witnesses or passersby if they can act as an interpreter. If everything else fails, you can call someone bilingual to act as an interpreter, someone you trust, like a friend or family member.
3. Ask for people that speak your language
If you don’t speak English, this situation might be even more frustrating. Here lies the importance of authorities, emergency services, and car insurance providers to have multilingual assistance to ease the situation.
When contacting them, try speaking with someone in your language. Emergency operators should be able to provide a translator in your language in a short period of time, to communicate easily. The police could also bring with them a bilingual officer or a translator.
An interpreter is essential when seeking medical attention if you don’t speak English. You could have someone on the phone that is bilingual or bring someone with you. To express and understand medical terms, one should be a fluent person in both languages.
4. Don’t push it
Even though it is useful to try to communicate with the other party, don’t push yourself. If you are not bilingual, the poor use of the language could get you in more trouble.
Don’t try explaining the situation if you don’t speak well, as insurance companies could benefit from your confusion and alter your claim. You don’t need to explain the situation in detail to the insurance company at that exact moment.
If you seek legal advice, look for a bilingual attorney that could deal with insurance companies for you. You could opt for layers that work on a contingency basis, that only charge you if you receive compensation.
As an English-speaking person, you should not make assumptions and it is better to be patient with the other driver.
5. Learn some useful phrases
Knowing some basic phrases could be life-saving in a car accident. Learning expressions such as “I’m hurt”, “Help”, “I need an interpreter” or “Call 911” could be very helpful for non-English-speakers.
If you speak English, you could also learn these phrases in Spanish, as this is the second most spoken language in the US.
Stay safe on the roads!
We hope that you never have to deal with this type of situation, but if you do, it is better to be prepared.
The first rule if you encounter yourself in a car accident is to stay calm. Not speaking the same language should not be a barrier in this time and age, many tools can help in these situations.
In the US, there are roughly 6 million car accidents per year, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, many of them between people who don’t speak the same language.
Emergency services, police departments, and car insurance providers should be prepared for multilingual conflicts and offer translators and interpreters for their customers.
We hope this guide was helpful!