Inside was an elderly woman in her late 70's. She was all alone, conscious, and was rather calm with her hands resting on the steering wheel. I began to chat with her and she said that she didn't know what happened -- that she was on the highway and then ended up in a field. The vehicle's air bags had gone off and she was still in her seat belt. There were no visible injuries, although she complained of a hurting shoulder. I could tell that her shoulder had been injured by the seat belt locking in the accident, an abrasion being quite evident. Other than that, she appeared to be okay.
Another driver who had stopped called emergency services while another was checking out the situation of smoke coming from the engine compartment. There was a slight drizzle of rain and the smoke subsided rather quickly. We kept the woman in the vehicle out of the elements until paramedics arrived. At that point, there was nothing more that I could do and the officer told me that I was free to go.
My focus the entire time was on keeping the elderly woman calm, generally evaluating her physical condition, and monitoring the vehicle to make certain that the initial smoke wasn't going to develop into anything worse. Those of us at the scene reassured her and once professionals arrived, our assisting was done. I pray that she'll recover quickly. Since my time was spent with the elderly driver, I didn't learn of the condition of the person in the Jeep. I pray that person will also recover from any injuries that he or she may have sustained.
If you come upon an accident scene, it's important to keep your wits about you and not panic. If your the first at an accident, as I was, the first thing to do is to pull your vehicle over -- parking as far off the road as possible. Turn on your vehicle's hazard and headlights. The next 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 something -- such as a fire. If an accident victim is unconscious you should check whether they are breathing or if anything is obstructing their airway. If the person is not breathing you can begin CPR, but should only do so if you are trained. 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, allergies, and more. 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.
It's a good idea to have a first aid kit in your own vehicle containing items such as latex gloves and bandages to help you to treat minor injuries or – in a worst-case scenario – keep someone alive until professional help arrives.
Road and Travel Magazine published an article that talks about the legal elements of assisting at a car accident scene. Most U.S. states have "Good Samaritan" laws to protect those who give aid at an accident from legal action. But not everybody is covered. Some states apply them only to citizens rendering assistance to auto accident victims, while some other states give protection only to certified emergency personnel. Bizarre as it may seem, what you do at the scene of an accident can have long-range consequences. The foremost question a Good Samaritan should ask is, "Can I leave this accident victim better or in at least the same condition as I found him?"
Even with the best intentions, if an accident victim's injuries are made worse by your "help," you could be liable for his or her additional injuries.
Be sure to turn off the ignition switches on vehicles involved in the accident to reduce the risk of fire. If the accident victim is conscious, ask if he or she wants assistance. If he or she rejects an offer of help, for any reason, do not give aid. As difficult as that might be, wait for professional help to arrive. If you give aid when a person says he doesn't want it, you might be vulnerable under Good Samaritan laws.
Even if an accident victim says "yes, help me," you still need to be cautious. If there is no immediate danger, why move him? It's usually best to wait for professional help to arrive. Statistics show that 80 percent of those hurt in traffic accidents have head injuries. If a person has a head injury, you should assume he or she also has neck and back injuries.
Bandaging wounds, attempting to splint broken bones, or using more advanced first-aid techniques, especially if professional help is on the way, isn't generally recommended. If an injury is obviously life threatening, and waiting for help would endanger a life, then necessary action should probably be taken.
There are actually several "safe" things that you can do to help an accident victim:
- Cover a victim with a coat or blanket to keep him or her warm, and to prevent shock.
- Shade the victim from the sun, or protect the from falling rain, to make the victim more comfortable while waiting for the ambulance.
- Talk to victims, reassure them help is on the way. Be encouraging.
- Hold the victim's hand while waiting for the ambulance. While this might not seem like much, it can do a lot for an injured person's sense of survival.
- Use a clean cloth as a compress to stop the flow of blood from a serious wound. In the case of head wounds, however, experts suggest you use as light a pressure as possible because the victim could have a fractured skull.
Traffic accidents are terrible events. They can be traumatic for victims and bystanders alike. If you ever have to take charge at the scene of an accident, keep in mind that your primary job is to help protect the victims until professional help arrives -- not treat their injuries.
Keep Reaching For Life's Mileposts,