A complete guide to roadside first aid

So, you’re the only person around to provide first aid at the site of a road accident, what do you do? Is it better to wait until emergency services arrive before assisting anybody who has been hurt, or should you dive in and give it you’re all?

If you have any first-aid training, you’ll be the one to deal with the situation; but what if you don’t? What happens if you harm the victim?

Will you face criminal penalties? These may well be some of the questions you’d ask yourself if such a circumstance arose. There isn’t any statute requiring you to give roadside care if you are involved in a motor vehicle accident or as a bystander, although this does not imply it’s acceptable to leave an injured individual who you know is at risk.

If you are unwilling or unable to administer first-aid treatment, perhaps the sight of blood causes you to pass out? You can still assist.

You can:

  • If it’s an emergency, call 999 or get someone else to handle it
  • Make the site safe – there are several dangers in a road accident, including further collisions and fire, but there may be broken glass or spilt oil to watch for as well.
  • To warn oncoming traffic, you must switch off your engine and turn on your hazard lights if you are in a car.
  • Anyone in the area should not be allowed to smoke.
  • Monitor the situation and discover what occurred.
  • Do not allow the victim to wander around on the scene in case they end up blocking traffic.
  • Try to keep the victim’s body temperature constant (e.g., by keeping them warm or shaded).
  • Keep the disaster victim safe from inclement weather.
  • Comfort the victim. Comfort them with confidence and avoid leaving them alone if possible.
  • Once you’ve stabilized the individual, raise their head and neck above your shoulder as far as possible. If you’re not sure whether or not they have a spinal injury, make them as comfortable as possible.
  • Do not move casualties from cars unless they are in imminent danger of additional harm.
  • Remove a motorcyclist’s helmet only when it is truly required.
  • Nothing should be offered to a victim who is unconscious or unable to swallow.

If you’re qualified to do so, you can also inspect the accident for:

  • Responsiveness (signs of life).
  • Breathing difficulties.
  • Wounds that require stitches (e.g. arterial).
  • Spinal disorders.

Emergency care

If you can give emergency care, the following method may help:


Make sure you’re not in any danger.


Try to obtain a reply from the person by shaking their shoulder and inquiring whether they are all right. If they answer, look for any signs of harm.


If there’s no reply, open the airway by putting your fingers beneath their chin and pushing it forward if necessary. Place the victim in the recovery position until medical assistance arrives if they’re breathing but unconscious.


Check to see if the person is breathing normally. You should be able to observe their chest move and feel the air on your cheek or hear them breathing. If there are no indications of breathing, you may begin CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation – a life-saving medical procedure that is administered to someone who has suffered cardiac arrest).

Be prepared

Always keep a first-aid kit with you. It’s something you wouldn’t expect to need, but it might save a life. First aid is also an excellent skill to have. You can get training from reputable institutions such as the St John Ambulance Association, St Andrew’s First Aid Training, the British Red Cross.

Am I liable if I injure a casualty?

If you were found to be negligent, you might be held responsible for significant monetary losses if your assistance was deemed careless and resulted in an injury that the accident victim hadn’t incurred.

This isn’t just for someone who has no prior experience and tries to step in; it’s also true for healthcare professionals, as well as non-professional volunteers.

If, for example, you provide chest compressions in a scenario where a victim is not suffering cardiac arrest but your actions harm the chest wall or underlying organs, you will be causing damage that would not otherwise have occurred and, given that the patient did not need emergency resuscitation, will leave them in a worse position.

However, it is unlikely that your actions would be considered negligent if you performed CPR on someone who was in cardiac arrest and the individual would have died without your help.

There’s also a question of consent. Under UK law, any type of physical contact without consent could be interpreted as simple assault. This is something to bear in mind, but if you made contact with a victim who needed first aid and was unable to give their approval, it would be extremely unlikely to result in a conviction.

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