Be prepared, be calm if you are the first person on the scene of an accident

Despite South Africa’s high road death toll, thousands of people have no choice but to use road transport – as will be the case again this festive season.

Anyone who has been on the roads in peak holiday periods will more than likely have seen an accident of some nature. Many times, emergency services have the situation in hand but what about witnessing an accident and being the first person on the scene to offer help?

Richard Green, National Director of the South African Motor Body Repairers’ Association (SAMBRA), a proud association of the Retail Motor Industry Organisation (RMI), says this is a scenario not many people like to think about but it can happen, so it is best to be prepared.

“The odds are good that at some point in your driving life you will come across an accident which has just happened. Knowing what to do can go a long way towards lessening the trauma and risk involved and could even save lives,” Green says.

“Your own safety must remain a priority, so do not do anything that can put your life or that of passengers in your car at risk on the scene of an accident.”

Green says there are two phases of help you can provide, each quite simple, but they do require a calm mind, so try not to panic.

Secure the scene  

  • Pull your vehicle well off the road.
  • Turn on the headlights and hazard lights.
  • Place your emergency triangle 45 metres behind the accident vehicle/s, facing traffic approaching from behind. You can also ask someone to stand at least 50m away from the scene to alert oncoming traffic, but always ensure it is safe to do so. You should not do this on a highway, for example.
  • Phone emergency services (which should be on speed dial on your cellphone). Be prepared to think clearly and give them all the details they need so that the most appropriate and nearest emergency personnel are dispatched. Offer the dispatcher the nearest landmark, intersection or route marker to enable help to get their as quickly as possible.
  • Get your first-aid kit out of your car and put on the latex gloves. Take the first-aid kit with you to the scene of the crash.

Assess injuries sustained

  • If it is safe to do so, approach the accident vehicle and see who is on the scene/in the car.
  • If they are able to speak, ask how injured they believe they are.
  • Ask who should be in the car so that you can ascertain whether everyone is accounted for. It is not uncommon for accident victims, especially children, to be flung from a window and land metres from the scene.
  • Start CPR, if you are trained to do so, on people not breathing.
  • If someone is bleeding heavily use bandages in your first-aid kit or other materials from your car, like a towel or jacket, to place over the wound and apply direct pressure until help arrives.
  • If the person is conscious, get as much personal information from them as possible – name, age, allergies, etc.

“The scene of an accident is not pleasant as you could have to deal with traumatised and potentially very injured people. However, if you are calm and prepared with all the emergency items you should always carry in your car, you can make a difference while waiting for professional help to arrive,” Green says.

SAMBRA concurs with the AA’s list of 20 emergency items you should ALWAYS have in your car:

  1. First-aid kit
  2. Fire extinguisher
  3. Emergency triangle
  4. Reflective jacket
  5. Jumper cables
  6. Tow rope
  7. Tyre sealant
  8. Multi-tool
  9. Duct tape
  10. Flashlight
  11. Cellphone charger
  12. Pen and paper
  13. Plastic poncho
  14. Paper towels or wet wipes
  15. Space blanket
  16. Drinking water
  17. Snacks
  18. Road maps
  19. Cash
  20. Emergency documents

Green concludes that if you are involved in an accident, it is important to follow all guidelines as set out by the National Road Traffic Act about what to do at a road crash scene.

“If you fail to comply with these, you could face criminal charges or a civil lawsuit, especially if you leave the scene of an accident where injuries or fatalities have occurred,”  he concludes.