You’re First To Arrive at The Scene of an Accident, What Can You Do?
On average, ambulances in the UK aim to reach the scene of an accident within eight minutes. Although incredibly fast, every second counts in life threatening situations, so knowing what to do could make all the difference when someone else’s life is in your hands.
What NOT to do at the scene of an accident
Our Driving Theory Test results revealed that there’s a real grey area around what you should do if you’re first to arrive at the scene.
A staggering one in ten people (12%) believe you should offer a drink or cigarette to a driver who is in shock after an accident, while just over one in 20 (7%) think you should try and move the person.1
These responses can cause more harm than help. Yet if everyone learnt a few basic first aid steps, we could save thousands of lives. That’s why we’ve teamed up with the nation’s leading first aid charity, St John Ambulance, to bring you a simple step-by-step guide on what to do if you’re first at the scene.
What to do at the scene of an accident
These are easy, practical skills for roadside response best practice that anyone can pick up and everyone should learn. Afterall, you could be the difference between a life lost and a life saved.
1. Make the incident area safe
Isobel Kearl from St John Ambulance highlights the importance of this first step: “Often, the scene of the accident will present serious risks to safety due to the risk of oncoming traffic, and so it is important to make the incident area as safe as possible before tending to any casualties.”
She suggests parking a safe distance from the incident and putting your hazard lights on to warn oncoming traffic. If possible, put on a high-vis jacket and place warning triangles at least 45m from the incident in each direction.
Remember to turn off all engines, enforce a smoking ban and keep children away from the scene to reduce the risk of further harm.
2. Get help
Call the emergency services on 999 (UK) or 112 (EU). When the operator answers, state the service required, and give the following information:
- Your phone number in case you’re cut off
- Information about the location of the accident
- Description of the incident and the current state of casualties
Try to always keep a charged mobile phone in your car. If you don’t have a phone, send someone for help.
3. Assess casualties
Attend to those with life-threatening injuries first. Do not move casualties or offer them food and drink, as this can cause further complications.
If you have to move someone because of fire or some other serious, immediate risk to life, do so very gently keeping the casualties head and neck supported and in a straight line. Do not move them unless there is no other choice.
Isobel Kearl suggests, “you should always assume that any casualty in a vehicle has a neck injury, and if possible, treat casualties in the position that you find them, supporting the head and neck continuously whilst you wait for the emergency services to arrive.”
She also recommends “asking bystanders for help and searching the area to make sure you haven’t missed any casualty who may have been thrown from the vehicle or wandered off.”
4. Do the DR. ABC primary survey
Work through the official first aid primary survey in this order before attempting to treat injuries. A great way to remember this is DR. ABC.
- Danger: Do not approach until it’s safe to do so.
- Response: Treat those who are unresponsive first, as they’re likely to be the most critical.
- Airway: Tilt the casualty’s head back and lift their chin to open the airway, checking that it’s clear. If blocked, clear the mouth (from false teeth, food, gum) or treat for choking.
- Breathing: Look, listen and feel for no longer than 10 seconds. If unresponsive and not breathing, carry out CPR (number 5).
- Circulation: If there is severe bleeding, you’ll need to treat it straight away (number 6).
5. If not breathing, carry out CPR
Only move onto this step if the casualty’s airway is open and clear. If they are unresponsive and not breathing, you’ll need to begin CPR immediately. Use a defibrillator if available and do not leave the casualty.
- Place both hands on the casualty’s centre of the chest and give 30 chest compressions using your body weight. Perform at a rate of 100-120 per minute (that’s 2 per second for 15 seconds).
- Give 2 rescue breaths by tilting the casualty's head back gently while lifting their chin, pinching their nose and blowing steadily into their mouth for a second. If unable or unwilling, just give chest compressions.
- Repeat – continue to give 30 chest compressions and 2 rescue breaths until help arrives.
6. If severely bleeding, apply pressure
Only move onto this step if the casualty is breathing normally. If they are bleeding severely, you will need to carry out the following immediately.
- Apply direct pressure to the wound, ideally with gloved hands, dressing or clothing.
- Secure dressing with a bandage to maintain pressure and support the injury as much as possible.
- Treat for shock if necessary.
What else can you do to help save lives?
There’s a multitude of things you can do to directly contribute towards saving lives on the roads. These include:
- Share this information with everyone you know to raise awareness of first aid and educate the public. The more people are informed, the more lives can be saved.
- Read more about road safety to reduce the risk of harm to yourself and others on the roads. Knowledge is power.
- Develop your practical lifesaving skills with 400,000 others every year, including hundreds of thousands of young people, on a St John Ambulance training programme.
- Volunteer with St John Ambulance to provide first aid in the community, help keep people safe at events, and work alongside the NHS in response to 999 calls.
Why? Because if your loved one was in a crash, you’d want someone to do the same for them.