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Basic First Aid if You Witness a Car Accident

By: Tracy Wilkinson - Updated: 1 Oct 2016 | comments*Discuss
Road Accident Basic First Aid Emergency

If you were to come across a road accident during your day, would you know how to help? Many of us wouldn't know what to do at the scene of an accident, and would be scared to get involved in case we made the situation worse. However, you don't need to have a qualification in First Aid to be useful in these kind of circumstances.

So Should I Help? Won't I Make Things Worse?

It is true that if you wade in there all guns blazing then you may well make things worse for any injured parties. But with a calm and measured approach and a good idea of basic first aid, you may well be able to save someone's life, or at least keep them alive until the ambulance turns up.

First Things First

What you need to do first is take a good look at the situation and work out what's going on. There could be several dangerous hazards involved at the scene of a traffic accident and these can include lots of broken glass, fluid leaking from the car and also the possibility of traffic travelling in the opposite direction i.e. towards you and the injured parties.

So first of all, make sure you are safe. The last thing you want to do is add yourself to the list of casualties.

If you're driving when you see the accident, park up your car safely - don't use your car as a roadblock - and turn off your engine before getting out of the car. If you were the first on the scene you should call the emergency services, and if others were there before you, check that this has been done.

If you are a smoker, also make sure that you are not holding a lit cigarette, and if you are, extinguish it inside the car as there could be leaking petrol or other flammable materials around the site of the accident. If you need to flag down cars heading towards you, or need to slow them down to alert them to the incident, then signal to them from the pavement and get their attention that way.

The Basics

Check the victims for injuries. DO NOT move them. You can approach them, but it's best to do so by kneeling down first, leaning down from standing towards an injured and disoriented person can send them into a state of panic.

Speak to the injured parties. Say 'Hello' and tell them your name. If there is no visible response, tap them lightly and see if they respond to that.

Check the person's airway so you can make sure they are able to breathe. To do this, you put your hand lightly across their forehead and tilt their head backwards gently. Lift up their chin with 2 fingers and put your cheek in front of their mouth to see if they are breathing. You can look at their chest for movement at the same time.

What do I do if They Aren't Breathing?

If they are not breathing at all or are breathing in an unusual way, you will need to start CPR or Cardio Pulmonary Resuscitation. If you haven't been on a first aid training course then you SHOULD NOT do this. Ask if anyone can give CPR and if they can, stay nearby to assist them.

Look for Bleeds

Look for any bleeding injuries. Bleeding is a major cause of shock so you should stem the flow wherever possible. Grab some clean cloth and press gently on the wound. If the person is conscious, then you should ask them to hold the cloth against their injury, this helps them to focus and can help someone who is in shock calm down. If a person is in their car and you can treat them for injuries in there, then do so. Don't move them unless you have to as there may be neck or back injuries that you can't see.


Shock can be a real problem after any accident. There is a little saying to remember 'If the face is pale, raise the tail'. This means that if someone is very pale then they have probably gone into shock. To help them, you should loosen tight clothing and put a blanket or coats over them to keep them warm then raise their legs up (even kneeling down and just resting their feet on your knees will help).

Emergency Services

Hopefully the emergency services will have been called before you started to check out the victim(s). It's always best if someone else can do this rather than the person carrying out first aid, as the emergency services will want to keep the caller on the phone to advise and take directions. When calling, you need to provide the following information:

  • Where the accident took place
  • What happened
  • How many people are injured
  • If there are any people not breathing
  • If there are bleeds
  • Any other information they ask for.

Most of all remember that by keeping a clear head and staying calm you really can be the difference between life and death for someone who has been injured in a road accident.

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[Add a Comment]
@SteveRounds. Please email jmarshall@pts.comif you'd like to dicuss this further.
TrafficAccidentAdvice - 23-Jun-15 @ 11:11 AM
Tracey, there are some significant inaccuracies in your advice. Please contact if you wish to discuss. I was a police officer for 30 years, latterly working advising DfT and HA on scene management and scene management training.
Steve Rounds - 18-Jun-15 @ 5:51 AM
very true I think even the least you do is better than not doing anything
rosie - 5-May-15 @ 10:03 PM
Well said Charlie I agree that its better to do something rather than nothing continuous compressions to circulate the blood and oxygen around the body and to the brain
rosey - 5-May-15 @ 2:41 PM
Whilst I wholly concur with the safety advice above, there are better things that can be done to help casualties at the scene of an accident. If the casualty is not breathing, you most certainly can and should attempt to perform CPR. Many people will be uncertain about doing it right and may not wish to perform Rescue Breaths ("mouth to mouth"). That's fine - the best thing you can do is to perform chest compression-only CPR. Push with two hands on the centre of the casualty's chest, approximately 5-6cm (2"-2.5") around 100-120 times a minute (up to two times a second). This will give them a much better chance of survival than if you do nothing. If someone is bleeding severely, you should press FIRMLY, directly onto the wound. You don't necessarily need a cloth or bandage to do this - the casualty could use their own hand if they can reach, or you can do it. This advice is no substitute for formal first aid training. Doing a basic first aid course can cost as little as £25 and is open to anyone of any age or ability. Charlie, First Aid Trainer, St John Ambulance
Charlie - 2-May-12 @ 3:25 PM
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