GRACE’S VIEW: Being an ‘innocent’ bystander

Grace’s View | Grace Fowler

When I was in a psych course out at Montcalm Community College we learned about the “bystander effect.” An example of this in action would be when someone is pulled over on the side of the road looking as though they may need help and everyone who drives past thinks that someone else will surely stop, so they continue on their way. I’ve done it myself.

Nowadays, in a situation like this, there are also a lot of other things to consider. Recently, I was driving home late and saw a car that had driven off the road and hit a tree. I was the only other person on the road at this time and was unsure of what to do at first. I didn’t want to pull over and get out because I realized how late it was and I was alone. I was nervous that the people in the car could potentially be dangerous and began running through a million scenarios in my head. So I drove past the accident and then looped around, parking in the nearby neighborhood until another car drove past. That driver told me she had heard the crash and called 9-1-1. In this situation, I guess the best thing for me to do would have been to call the police, but I was kind of thrown into a mild state of shock.

My friend and I were recently in a similar situation, but on the needing help side of the fence. We were driving separately when she unexpectedly got a flat tire. I had this happen two summers ago along the highway, but fortunately someone we knew saw me and stopped to change my tire. I wouldn’t have had the slightest clue how to go about doing that. My friend ended up calling a local mechanic and he came out and put the spare on for her. What I found interesting was the number of people who drove past us and basically ignored us. We were two young girls standing by the side of the road with our hazard lights on. Out of all the people who drove, walked, or biked past, only two of them asked if there was anything we needed. Fortunately, we had the situation somewhat under control, but still, how dangerous could we have looked? It was early afternoon in a nice neighborhood and I thought we looked pretty harmless.

Regardless of the situation, I think it is hard to tell when to pull over and help someone, when to keep driving and sometimes when to call the police. When it comes to needing roadside assistance, I’ve decided that in most cases, it’s probably best to call a mechanic or your toll-free roadside assistance service instead of waiting for someone to stop.

Grace Fowler is a Greenville High School graduate and a Hope College freshman. She can be reached at

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