Every driver hopes never to be involved in an accident, but the chances of avoiding one throughout your motoring life are statistically quite small — even for an advanced driver. All the same, you are very likely sooner or later to arrive at the scene of an accident, and, if you are the first to arrive, it will be your responsibility to help.
Stop and think
Many things have to be done at once at an accident, and there is more involved than merely helping the casualties. You must warn other drivers, send for help and protect the site from further accidents until the emergency services arrive. your actions in these first few minutes could be a matter of life and death. Think about what you do: someone who is injured and unable to move could be more seriously hurt if you try to pull him out.
Do not park your car where it could be a hazard to other drivers. The best place to park is at the roadside between the accident site and oncoming traffic where your car can be seen easily. Keep any children or pets inside the car. If it is dark, position your car so that its headlights illuminate the scene of the accident, but also so that it can still be seen by approaching drivers. Switch on your hazard warning lights. Switch off the crashed vehicle's engine and disconnect the battery; apply the handbrake and chock the wheels if this seems necessary. Make sure that no-one in the vicinity of the accident is smoking and if your car has a fire extinguisher keep it handy.
Warn other road users
Approaching drivers need plenty of time and distance in which to react to warning signals, and to slow down and stop or negotiate the accident. Running into the road and waving your arms wildly will confuse others and put yourself in danger. Instead, walk back along the side of the road for at least 100 meters, or until the accident is going out of view. Make a clear 'slow down' signal by moving your arm vigorously up and down, with palm face down, as if pressing down repeatedly on a heavy weight, and point decisively to the accident scene. On bends it may be useful to recruit a second person to give advance warning.
Someone should stand near the site and guide vehicles round the accident. Stand in the headlights of a car or under a streetlamp at night, and remember that it will help to wear a pale or reflective garment. Hold a white handkerchief, or better still a torch, in your hand to draw extra attention to yourself. If you carry an advance warning sign (a red reflective triangle), place it in the road at least 50 yards (150 yards on a motorway) before the accident and on the same side of the road to warn approaching traffic of the obstruction.
Send for help
Your first priority is to send for help, because you will need it! If this means leaving casualties unattended, get someone else to telephone the emergency services. If no-one else is around you must do this yourself.
Answer these questions
These questions must be answered before leaving the accident scene to telephone for the emergency services. What is the exact location? (Look for an obvious landmark if you do not know, or if there are no road signs.) How many casualties are there and how serious are their injuries? Are the casualties trapped? Is the accident causing danger? Is a traffic jam developing? Are petrol or chemicals spilling? How many vehicles are involved? Are they cars? Lorries? Tankers? Buses or coaches?
Dial the emergency services
Tell the operator your telephone number and ask for ambulance, police or fire service; you will be connected to each in turn if all three are required. Ask for:
- Ambulance if there are casualities.
- Police if there are casualties, danger or obstruction to traffic.
- Fire service if there are people trapped, petrol or chemicals on the road, or risk of fire.
Give this information
Details which should be given to the emergency services are: exact location of the accident; number and general condition of the casualties; if anyone is trapped; number and type of vehicles involved; if petrol or chemicals are on the road; if other traffic is in danger of jamming up; your name and address, and the telephone number from which you are speaking.
Then return to the accident scene to help with the casualties or traffic. If you saw what happened, give your name and address to the attending police officer. Try to avoid leaving the scene of the accident before speaking to the police but if you do, you should contact any police station or officer as soon as possible to give details.
If an accident occurs involving only slight damage to vehicles and no offence has been committed, it is not necessary to report it to the police. The drivers involved, however, are required by law to exchange details of driver, owner and vehicle registration number. If injury is caused you must also give your insurance particulars. Anyone requiring advice or assistance may telephone the local police station or, in an emergency, dial the emergency services.
Help the casualties
Only move injured people if there is immediate danger, since you could aggravate internal and back or neck injuries. Make sure the person can breathe. Inspect the inside of the mouth and back of the throat. To avoid the danger of choking, remove any food, sweets or false teeth.
Listen, and if you cannot detect any breathing, try to restore the casualty by mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.
Place the casualty on his back, and support the neck so that the head falls back to open the airway. Pinch his nose shut and hold his mouth open. Cover his mouth with yours, and blow out firmly to inflate his lungs. Then release nose and mouth. Keep repeating the procedure until the casualty starts to breathe spontaneously. If he is unconscious, move him gently into the recovery position to make sure that he does not choke on his tongue or gorge. This involves turning the casualty gently on his side and bending his arms and legs so as to keep him in the position shown in the accompanying diagram. Straighten and turn his head to one side, facing slightly downwards.
If there is serious bleeding, apply firm pressure to the bleeding point to stem the flow of blood. Use a pad or apply a sterile dressing and bandage firmly. Look for limb fractures and try to stop these limbs moving. If a casualty is sitting up and in no immediate danger, do not make him leave the car. Leave him where he is and support his head in case he passes out and chokes.
Keep all casualties warm, including shock cases, but do not give them any pain relievers, alcohol, other drinks, food or cigarettes - they may have internal injuries and need operations.
If you are not sure what to do, leave well alone provided that the casualty is breathing and not bleeding heavily.
Get first aid training
This article gives only the most elementary first aid advice, but if you have been trained in first aid you will clearly be able to help more effectively. The British Red Cross Society or the St John Ambulance Association can advise you about training.
Carry a first aid kit
By carrying a first aid kit you are better prepared to help yourself and other road users in the event of an accident it may even save someone's life. Your first aid kit should be clearly marked and easily accessible, and can be carried in any suitable plastic container, preferably a flexible and transparent one. Mark it 'First Aid' or paint a large red cross on it.
This box should contain plenty of sterile dressings — as many as can be fitted in — in large, medium and small sizes. Triangular bandages for use as slings or bandages, safety pins, plasters, scissors and a knife are essential. You should carry anti-sting and scald ointments for minor mishaps which might impair your driving, but these should not be used in accidents. Do not carry antiseptics, pain-relieving pills or alcohol, as all of these can do more harm than good on the road.
There is just one set of circumstances at the scene of an accident when you should break the rule and pull injured people from their vehicles. Although fire occurs in only a tiny proportion of road accidents, it is a very serious hazard which requires instant action and great presence of mind. The fire may be caused by a short circuit from damaged wiring, in which case you should have plenty of time to deal with it as long as petrol is not seeping from a ruptured tank dangerously near it. If you have been wise enough to fit a fire extinguisher (ideally a 31b-plus BCF model) to your car, aim it at the seat of the fire and keep up the discharge until the flames are out.
If the fire is in the engine bay, great care is needed since the action of opening the bonnet will feed the fire with a draught of air, causing the flames to flare up. If you can, open the bonnet just enough to allow you to aim the fire extinguisher inside, but only if you can identify with certainty the source of the flames. If you cannot see where the fire is coming from before you open the bonnet a fraction, open it wide and be ready to act quickly if the fire expands. If you can, try to break the electrical circuit feeding the fire by disconnecting the battery leads.
A petrol fire is even more serious, calling for heroic action if anything is to be done to save people trapped inside the car. A petrol fire can often be avoided, however, by making sure that there is no possibility of any sparks near the damaged car: no-one must smoke, people in nailed shoes should keep clear and no attempt should be made by anyone but the emergency services to cut away metal to release occupants. Petrol cannot set itself alight, so one of your first actions must be to switch off the car's ignition to avoid the possibility of any sparks.
The majority of accidents are no more than minor collisions involving bumps and scrapes to vehicles and no injury to people, but even these should be treated seriously. If you are involved in such an accident, the law demands that you give your name, address and insurance company details to the other driver, and to anyone else (such as a police officer) who may reasonably require it. It is your responsibility to make sure that you obtain these same details from the other driver. Remember to collect information from any other motorists or pedestrians who saw the incident, but be quick about it because witnesses, realising they might have to waste a day in court on your behalf, have a habit of melting away into the background.
You are not required by law to inform the police if all these points are followed, but it is always advisable to do so if anyone is injured or there is an allegation of dangerous driving. Many drivers think that causing damage to a parked vehicle is part of the rough and tumble of life, but it really is unethical to drive off without leaving a note of your name and address under the windscreen wiper.
In collisions where more severe damage is caused to vehicles, it is best to leave them where they come to rest until the police have inspected the incident and taken measurements. Take photographs if you happen to be carrying a camera in your car, because they could be very useful as evidence if the matter ever comes before a court. Take your own measurements and make notes of exactly what happened so that you can give very precise information to your insurance company. The more detail you can provide, the better the chance, if the incident was the other driver's fault, that his company and not yours will be paying up.
Take care not to say anything, either to the other driver or to the police, which you may later regret. It is always possible that you may say things which may subsequently be interpreted as acceptance by you of liability. Think carefully before you speak even if you do accept that you were at fault; every insurer advises that you should leave the assessment of blame to them and not admit it on the spot.
Very minor collisions, with only superficial damage to one or both cars, may cause a great deal of anger, but sometimes it is better to be philosophical if the incident is not your fault, and put the cost down to bad luck. On a busy road, other motorists will not thank you for causing a traffic jam while you argue over a broken tail lamp lens. The police also would not be pleased about being dragged into such an inconsequential matter which would hardly merit prosecution. You may be fortunate in finding that the other motorist agrees to pay for your minor repairs himself but, if he does not, you are unlikely to be able to persuade his insurance company to pay. They would know that the cost, time and trouble of legal action would never be worthwhile to extract a small amount of money, and you would hardly want to go to your own insurer with a claim which would probably be exceeded by the cost of higher premiums in the future. However annoying it may be at the time, you may have to put a minor knock down to experience.
Hit and run' incidents
If ever you see a 'hit and run' accident, try to absorb as many details as you can and write them down as soon as possible: registration number, colour and make of the car involved, a description of the incident and maybe even a description of the driver. The more details you can pass to the police, the better chance they have of tracing the culprit. Do not forget, though, that your first duty is to the victim.
- Absorb carefully the details contained in this article about accident procedure; if you are one of the first on the scene you must act swiftly and with great presence of mind.
- Always carry a first aid kit and afire extinguisher and make sure that you know how to use them.
- At minor accidents which involve no injury, your exchange of details with the other party should include names, addresses, vehicle details and names of insurance companies; do not admit liability even if you feel that you were at fault.