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Roadside first aid

Every year around 22,000 people are seriously injured in road traffic accidents and another 160,000 are slightly injured. Those injuries can range from cuts and bruises up to loss of limbs and serious breakages. The thing is, would you stop if you witnessed such an incident? Many people don’t, because they’re unsure of what to do, daunted by the prospect of seeing somebody covered in blood, or incapable of moving.
Yet the basics of roadside first aid are actually really simple, and here, with the help of St John’s Ambulance, we show you how easy it is to make a difference. Familiarise yourself with these techniques and if the worst should happen while you’re out and about, you could prevent a minor injury becoming a serious one – or you could even save a life.
Step 1: Make the area safe
Before you can attend to a casualty, you must make the incident area safe, to protect yourself, any injured people, and other road users. Here’s how to do it:

  • Pull over safely, clear of damaged vehicles. Apply your handbrake and switch on your hazard lights.
  • Don’t attempt to cross a road if it’s unsafe, as it could cause another accident, or serious injury to yourself.
  • Call 999. If you think people may be trapped or there’s a fire risk, ask for a fire crew as well as the police and ambulance services.
  • If available, ask others to set up warning triangles to warn other drivers to slow down. Warning triangles should be set at least 50 metres away from the incident and in both directions if necessary.
  • Switch off the ignitions of any damaged vehicles.
  • If a vehicle is upright, apply the handbrake and engage first gear.
  • Be constantly aware of dangers such as approaching cars.
  • Make sure no one smokes; things could very quickly escalate if there’s any leaking fuel or oil…

Step 2: Check the casualties
Quickly assess all casualties and then focus on those who you suspect are the most badly injured. There’s always a high risk of spinal injury in road accidents, so only move an injured person if they’re in danger or life-saving treatment is required. Those who aren’t moving or making any noise are often the greatest concern. When dealing with a casualty, you need to carry out a primary survey, known as DRAB.

  • (D)anger: Are you or the casualty in any danger? If you have not already done so, make the situation safe before you assess the casualty.
  • (R)esponse: If a casualty appears unconscious, rub their shoulder while shouting ‘open your eyes’ or ‘can you hear me’. If there’s a response, don’t move the casualty and summon help if needed. Treat any injuries that you can, and continue to check on the casualty until help arrives or the casualty recovers.
  • (A)irway: If there’s no response you must shout for help and open the airway. You should try to perform this in the position the casualty was found, but if it’s not possible to do so, turn the casualty onto their back. Open the airway by placing one hand on the casualty’s forehead and gently tilting the head backwards, then lift the chin using two fingers only.
  • (B)reathing: With the airway now open, check for 10 seconds to see if the casualty is breathing properly. Feel for breath against your cheek, listen for breathing and look to see if the casualty’s chest is rising and falling. If the casualty is breathing normally, you can start to treat injuries. If the casualty is not breathing normally, begin CPR.

How to give CPR
CPR is a procedure that a lot of people feel nervous about performing. CPR stands for cardiopulmonary resuscitation. It’s a bit of a tongue twister and it sounds complicated, but it’s actually pretty simple to carry out and can mean the difference between life and death.
What you’re doing is supplying oxygen to a person who has stopped breathing normally, and helping to circulate blood around the casualty’s body as you wait for proper medical assistance to arrive. Start by getting someone to check that an ambulance is on its way, then launch into the procedure:
Give 30 chest compressions:

  • Place the heel of your hand in the centre of the casualty’s chest.
  • Place your other hand on top and interlock fingers.
  • Keeping your arms straight and your fingers off the chest, press down by 4-5cm, then release the pressure, keeping your hands in place.
  • Repeat the compressions 30 times, at a rate of 100 per minute.

Give two rescue breaths:

  • Ensure the casualty’s airway is open.
  • Pinch the casualty’s nose firmly closed.
  • Take a deep breath and seal your lips around the casualty’s mouth.
  • Blow into the mouth until the chest rises.
  • Remove your mouth and allow the chest to fall.
  • Repeat once more.

Continue resuscitation, 30 compressions to two rescue breaths until:

  • Emergency help arrives and takes over.
  • Another first aider takes over.
  • The casualty breathes normally.

Bear in mind though, that children from one year of age to puberty should be given five rescue breaths to every 30 chest compressions.
There’s a lot more detail on how to administer first aid on the St John’s Ambulance website; it’s well worth a read to improve your skills and knowledge of first aid at all levels. If you fancy learning first aid properly, check out the courses that St. John’s Ambulance offers; you could learn some life-saving skills. Even better, think about becoming a volunteer; it can be hugely rewarding and by doing so you can really make a difference.