I remember the first time I encountered a roadside scene where I had the chance to make a difference in the life of someone who had just been involved in a serious motor vehicle accident. Because of my basic emergency services, trauma/sports injury, and chiropractic training, I felt very well equipped to take part in helping this person.
That said, I knew that at least one of the people involved was going to need to be transported to a hospital and that my involvement was more to let emergency services know that there was an incident and to assess the situation in an overall sense than to perform any “treatment.”
Oftentimes, the first person/people on the scene have little or no medical training, but by doing some basic things well, they can literally save someone’s life following an accident.
How to Help After a Car Accident
1. Evaluate the Scene and Call 911: When approaching the scene of any kind of traffic or road-side incident, ALWAYS assess the situation prior to pulling over. If you pulling over is going to put you and others at risk, DO NOT stop your vehicle until you can do so without adding to the confusion and potential danger. The only time this wouldn’t be the case is if you see victims lying in the road and are in danger of being hit by oncoming traffic. In that case, stop your car in a position to act as a barrier between oncoming traffic and the victim or victims. When doing so, be sure to turn on your flashers BUT TURN OFF YOUR VEHICLE! As soon as possible, call 911 and answer all the dispatcher’s questions in a clear, concise way.
2. Stay Calm! Accident situations can get everyone’s adrenaline and emotions running very, VERY high. Prior to the arrival of EMS, the best thing to help any situation is a sense of calmness amidst the chaos. People who are injured may be crying, screaming, or even unconscious. Witnesses can oftentimes be traumatized and acting impulsively. All of this can lead to a scene where people are frantic, not knowing what to do. Having as many people as possible help restore a sense of calmness until professional help arrives does more to alleviate stress and suffering than just about anything else.
Of course, if there are circumstances occurring that make getting involved unsafe for you, don’t get directly involved…call 911 and follow their directions. You jumping into the middle of a danger zone only gives the professionals one more untrained person to consider when doing their jobs.
To bring calmness to others, avoid yelling or shouting, and make statements and ask questions that get the victim’s attention focused on you. Such statements and questions include things like:
a. My name is _______. Do you need any help?
b. I’ve called 911 and help is on the way…try to relax.
c. Is there anyone I can call for you?
d. I’m going to stay with you for as long as you need me
3. Look to See Who Else is Nearby and Can Help: If there are other people arriving on the scene of an accident, anyone with medical training will almost always identify themselves. If there is someone with more medical training than you have, allow them to take control of the scene and ask how you can help. If there are no medically trained people present and you are the first one there, as more people arrive, let them know what has been done (911 called, cars turned off, etc.) and look to delegate important tasks such as directing traffic and staying on the line with the 911 operator for as long as possible.
4. Only Provide the Help You Are Comfortable With: If you ask an injured victim if they need help and they respond “yes,” let them know that 911 has been called and help is on the way.
a. If you have first aid training, you may be able to assist in cleaning wounds, stopping bleeding, etc. If the wounds or injuries are serious, it’s generally recommended to wait for help instead of trying to manage the injuries yourself.
b. If the victim is unconscious (you talk to them and shake them gently and they are unresponsive) and you have CPR training, you can evaluate them to see if they are breathing and if there is a pulse. If there is no breathing or no pulse, you can begin CPR as per your training until help arrives. If you do not know how to perform CPR, don’t attempt it and instead ask other bystanders if anyone is certified in CPR.
c. To stop bleeding, put direct pressure on the area.
d. Try to keep the person still by asking them to remain calm and still.
e. If a person’s face is pale, there’s a good chance they may be going into shock. Be sure the victim is shaded from sun or rain/snow, cover them with clothes or blankets, and raise their legs if you are able.
5. Once Emergency Services Arrives, Tell Them What You Know: If all goes well, Emergency Services will arrive within minutes after having been called. Once they get to the scene, tell them what has taken place and what you have done. Ask if there is anything else they need from you and follow their instructions. Oftentimes they will request that you stay and tell the police everything you know about the situation.
Police officers will likely collect your information so if law enforcement or the victim wants or needs to speak with you, they can reach out to you.
Thankfully, most accidents or road incidents we come across do not require that we stop and assist. If you witness an accident or come across an accident/broken down car, take the following steps to keep you and everyone else involved safe:
a. If you happen to witness an incident on the road, it’s absolutely critical that you remain at the scene to report what you saw to the police. Far too often there are discrepancies between the parties involved as to what actually happened, so having witnesses report what they saw and heard can make a huge difference in assuring that the correct facts are brought forth and recorded.
b. SLOW DOWN!! Reducing speed gives everyone more time to operate and react in a potentially dangerous situation. That said, pay close attention to what YOU are doing. Avoid focusing on the issue at the side of the road as that distraction could lead to another accident.
c. Move AWAY from the accident itself. If vehicles, people, law enforcement, or EMS are on the side of the road, look to move over so that there is at least one lane between you and the affected vehicles/people. It sounds like a simple thing, but giving a little extra space can be the difference between life and death for people at the scene.
While none of us wants to see anyone in this situation, being prepared can help bring a positive outcome to what can be one of the worst situations in a person’s life. If you’ve never taken a CPR class, it might be worth considering not only for a situation you come across, but to prepare you to be of help for a friend or family member in a crisis as well.
If you have questions or would like to speak more with us about this topic, feel free to contact Dr. Jim Hoven at Ramos Law. He can be reached at 303-733-6353.