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Sharp Health News

How can I help someone injured in a car accident?

Sept. 9, 2015

What to do when you see a car accident

You’re driving down the road and come upon the scene of an auto accident. You stop, and see that one or more persons appear to be injured. Assuming you are not trained in emergency medicine, what should you do?

"The best thing you can do after activating emergency response is to support the victims," says Kelly Yascheshyn, Emergency Department Manager at Sharp Coronado Hospital. "Your first impulse may be to pull the injured person from the wreck; but this can actually do more harm than good. These events are full of panic and emotion. The best intervention is calming reassurance that help is on the way."

Yascheshyn notes that if the car is on fire, or there is immediate danger posed by approaching traffic, then by all means pull the victim clear; otherwise consider that well-meaning assistance can make injuries worse. The right thing to do is to call 911; safely park far enough from the wreck to make room for emergency vehicles, and set your flashers; then take a few seconds to assess the situation and speak with the victim.

Most people involved in a car crash have head injuries, and that usually means neck and back injuries as well. It requires a professional to brace and steady such an injury to prevent further harm when the person is moved; just one wrong bend or twist could lead to paralysis, or worse.

Likewise, it is probably best not to bandage wounds or splint a broken bone.

If all of this sounds like you are powerless to help,

Yascheshyn says there are certain critical things you can do.

  • If the victim has stopped breathing, and you are trained in CPR or mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, then you should administer.
  • Try to make the victim comfortable, by shading him from the sun or protecting against rain.
  • Cover the victim with a blanket or coats to keep her warm and to help prevent shock.
  • Take a clean cloth and apply pressure to an area where there is serious bleeding (be gentle around the head, though).
  • Stay with the victim, be reassuring, make sure he knows that help is on the way and he’s going to be taken care of.
  • Keep an eye on any crowd that gathers, and make sure nobody else steps in and tries to be a hero.

In short, says

Yascheshyn, this is the first stage of an emergency: it’s more about safety than cure.

“Few of us are doctors, nurses or paramedics; but we all have common sense and the instinct to protect others from harm. That’s what you need to do: protect, don’t treat.”

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