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How to help an accident victim

Last Modified: June 03, 2021

Safety & Prevention

Lisa Hollister, director of Trauma, Parkview Trauma Centers, provides guidance for anyone who comes upon a car accident.

Tips for civilians who arrive at an accident scene:

  • Call 9-1-1.
  • Park at least 100 feet away from the crash. Turn your hazard lights on and use flairs if appropriate.
  • Make sure the scene is safe before you approach. You might have to approach the victim on the passenger side of the vehicle. Watch for traffic and make sure you protect yourself.
  • Do not move the victim. The only time you would move a passenger is if there is an immediate threat, like fire, or the victim has been ejected and is face down in water.
  • Your main role is to be a supporter. Let the victim(s) know you are there and will stay, if they want, until help arrives.
  • Do not treat injuries unless you are a medical professional. The only instance it might be appropriate to deliver care is to take a clean towel and apply pressure to a bleeding wound. If the trauma is on the victim’s head, be very careful, as they could have a skull fracture.
  • Provide a blanket if the victim is cold, or perhaps protection from the sun if it’s hot.
  • If the vehicle is still running, ask the victim to put the car in park and turn it off. If they are unable to do so, and you are comfortable, you can perform these actions.  
  • If the victim isn’t breathing, you can perform rescue breaths if comfortable.
  • Once the professionals arrive, let them take over.

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