How to help if you are first on the scene of an accident

What to do if you’re driving past an accident scene

Traffic accidents are a regular occurrence on South African roads with thousands of accidents reported annually. The odds are that at some point you will come across an accident scene. Knowing how best to handle such a situation can go a long way towards lessening the potential trauma and risk involved and could save lives. You should always remember, however, that ensuring your own safety is as important as helping the injured so don’t attempt anything that might put you at risk.

What to do if you’re first on the scene

You could be faced with seriously injured and traumatised people and difficult as it may be, you need to keep your wits about you and not panic. What do you do first? Who do you call? How do you help the injured?

The first thing to do is to pull your vehicle over. Park as far off the road as possible and turn on your vehicle’s hazard and headlights. Place an emergency triangle 45 metres behind the stranded/damaged vehicle or vehicles, facing traffic approaching from the rear. You can also ask someone to stand at least 50 metres away from the scene of the accident and alert oncoming traffic.

The next – and very important – step is to phone emergency services. You will be required to provide your telephone number, location, details of the accident, how many people are injured and whether there is a fire. This will ensure that the correct and closest emergency personnel are dispatched.

If possible, also take note of the nearest route marker, intersection or landmark as this may assist the first responders in reaching the scene as quickly as possible.

Once the scene has been secured and help summoned, you can establish whether any of the people involved in the accident need your assistance:

  • Make sure that all the occupants of the vehicle or vehicles involved in the accident are accounted for and take special care to keep children calm.
  • Don’t attempt to remove anyone that has suffered injuries from the vehicle, unless their life is being threatened by a fire, for example
  • If an accident victim is unconscious you should check whether they are breathing or if anything is obstructing their airways. If the person is not breathing you can begin CPR, but only if you are trained to do so
  • If the injured person is breathing, you should leave them in the position they are in but keep a watchful eye on them
  • If anyone is bleeding heavily you can use any material at hand to place over the wound and apply direct pressure until help arrives

If the accident victim is conscious, you should get as much information as possible from them. If he or she passes out before emergency services arrive, you will be able to relay valuable information such as name, age, medical conditions and allergies etc.

Asking questions will also help you to gauge whether the victim has suffered a potential head injury or not. This is important information that should also be passed on to paramedics.

Note: You should always have a first aid kit containing items such as latex gloves and bandages in your car to help you to treat minor injuries or – in a worst-case scenario – keep someone alive until professional help arrives.

General tips

  • Here is a handy list of the 20 emergency items you should always have in your car
  • Save emergency numbers on your phone
  • Consider taking a first aid course and learning how to give CPR


What to do if you’re driving past an accident scene

  • Obey instructions given by traffic officials or emergency personnel. If necessary, you should reduce your speed and even stop, but don’t be tempted to slow down. This is potentially very dangerous as it could cause a secondary collision.
  • Keep an eye out for emergency vehicles and people moving around the accident scene. Be vigilant of other vehicles passing by the scene.
  • Don’t stop and get out of your vehicle unless you are specifically instructed to do so. Also, don’t become impatient if traffic is held up.

Sources: The AA, Arrive Alive, ER24