What to do if you’re ‘first on scene’ to a motorcycle accident

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In support of Road Safety Week – 9 to 25 November, BASICS Scotland has issued a list of top 10 first aid tips for motorcyclists that could help save a life. Compiled by Kevin McCloskey, a Senior Staff Nurse in Orthopaedics and Trauma at Forth Valley Royal Hospital, Kevin is an instructor for the charity and has also worked in the med centre and trackside at Knockhill circuit.
Whilst qualified medical personnel are the people to deal with any accident – there are things that untrained people can do to help the victim before medical help arrives.

  1. Stop and take two deep breaths to help you remain calm. Everyone will take orders from a calm person who seems to be in control.
  2. Reassure the victim – they will be in a confused and scared state and often the only thing on their mind will be their bike. It is important to make sure they will not try to move or get to their bike.
  3. If other people are around – establish the best medically-trained individual to attend to the victim.
  4. If breathing is taking place normally, LEAVE THE HELMET ON! Remove the helmet only if the airway is blocked or the victim is not breathing.
  5. After establishing the seriousness of the injuries, call for an ambulance. Give as many details as possible remembering to include: the number of people involved; the injuries; the location and your number.
  6. Check the victim’s pulse every 5 minutes and document it. Check the pulse on the throat initially – the carotid artery, right next to the wind pipe/adam’s apple on either side – and subsequently on their wrist. If pulse is not present, remove helmet if necessary and begin CPR immediately. If you are not sure ask the Ambulance Operator for advice.
  7. Have person check breathing every 5 minutes, by listening and watching their chest and document it.
    Watch for signs of person going into shock:-
    i. Inability to answer simple questions coherently (Who are you?, etc.)
    ii. Pale, cool, clammy skin
    iii. Delayed capillary refill. Squeeze the patients fingernail so that it turns white. It should turn back to pink in less than 2 seconds. If you suspect shock ask the Ambulance operator for advice.
  8. Stop bleeding: using sterile bandages/dressings if available. 80% of motorcycle accidents involve someone going over the top of their motorcycle. Femur (the thigh bone) injuries are very frequent. There are huge arteries that run along the inner thigh; if these are compromised the person can bleed to death in a very short amount of time. Use a pressure point above the cut to control blood flow out of the femur artery. If you are not sure – ask the Ambulance operator for advice.

If someone else is dealing with the victim you can help with scene management by:

  • Establish a few people around the immediate accident scene to help direct traffic, to point out fluid spills, and to move smokers well away from flammable materials.

When the ambulance arrives you can help by:-

  • If people are available, get someone uproad and downroad to wave down traffic. This is especially important in tight twisties where they may not have time to stop after seeing the accident site.
  • Indicate hazardous material spills to the ambulance crew (gas, oil, brake fluid) to avoid slip hazard.
  • Turn off ignition of bike and other vehicles and be aware of undeployed airbags.

Before the Police arrive, try to not move motorcycle parts any more than necessary! They may need to take accident scene notes and by moving things around you may confuse the situation for them. Parts will need to be moved off the road to avoid further accidents, but move them directly to the side so the police can determine roughly where it stopped if necessary. Try not to disturb the bike any more than necessary.
If the helmet was removed, send it along in the ambulance. The doctors may use the visible damage to the helmet to assist them in what to look for in terms of injuries.
Take a basic first aid and CPR courses! They are offered through the Red Cross and several other organizations periodically. Go with some riding buddies or get your club to have a class!
Who are Basics Scotland?
BASICS Scotland is a charity which trains/teaches over 350 Drs, Nurses and Paramedics predominantly in rural areas the core skills of immediate life-saving pre-hospital care.  The charity also has BASICS Scotland responders  – fully trained doctors, nurses and paramedics who in their own time respond to 999 medical emergencies within their local area. 

Vehicle Locator Systems, funded by the Sandpiper Trust charity, allows the Scottish Ambulance Service Control Centres to see their location and availability to respond at any given time. Over 40% of their callouts are to road traffic accidents.

Pete Baker

By Pete Baker