general auto

Car crashes: How to respond if you come across one.

Every Easter authorities across the country push road safety messages but inevitably there are crashes, many leading to fatalities.

What do you do if are the first on the scene of a crash, or arrive before emergency services?

Many people stop and help but some don’t.

A caller to ABC Hobart, Sally Eastwood, said she recently came across two car crashes in one section of road, and was shocked at what unfolded.

“I came across a car that was turned over on its side and balanced on an embankment, but where I was I couldn’t stop because there was a car close behind me,” she said.

“So I had to continue up the road, only to find another two cars that had also been in an accident, and they were blocking the road, so we were forced to stop there.

“There was a young girl trapped in the car on its side, and [it was] caught on a tree but it looked like it was going to continue to roll.

“She thankfully, to my knowledge, was not badly hurt but she couldn’t get out of the car.

“But the thing that surprised me or shocked me more than anything was how many cars continued to drive past and not stop.”

“It’s a frightening thing and I can understand why people would be scared to stop.

“It can be distressing, I suppose, the thought of what you’re going to see and how you are going to deal with it.

Sally Eastwood has stopped at several crashes and understands they can be frightening to some people. Image via ABC.

"But I've stopped at several accidents over the years and it certainly gets the adrenaline going, and does affect you, but my thing is, if that was my daughter, my sister, my mother, or my friend, I would like to think that someone would stop, get out [and help]."

"I heard [the young woman trapped in the car] say she rang her father and she said to him 'I can hear people driving by and no-one is stopping'. It's horrible isn't it?"

Do I get out and help?

Tasmanian Police Inspector John Ward said it must be an individual's choice to stop at a crash scene.

"We would ask that people stop if they feel confident," he said.

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"The reason I say that is because they may at some stage render life-saving assistance or at least evaluate the scene and provide that information to emergency services or police.

Whether a motorist should stop can also depend on the location.

"For example, on the Tasman Bridge it'd be fairly difficult, you're going to create a lot of disruption there," Inspector Ward said.

"If you come across a crash there the best thing to do is ring triple-0 as we can get the emergency services there before it becomes congested.

"Alternatively if you are out in the country ... then really it'd be excellent if you could stop, again if you are confident, and report the details to us.

It can also depend on conditions and whether it's safe.

"Not only do you have you got to consider the safety of the persons in the crash, your own safety has to be paramount as well, because you're no good to us or anyone else if you've been run over," he said.

"If a car has crashed and it's in the middle of a highway somewhere, you need to find somewhere safe to park your car yourself."

Do I direct the traffic?

Inspector Ward said police would prefer that members of the public did not get out and direct traffic at a crash scene.

"That's the job that emergency services, in particular police," he said.

The weather and time of day need to be considered if directing traffic at a crash. Image via ABC.

"Directing traffic is quite difficult and quite dangerous — you'll never see police doing it without wearing hi-vis protective clothing, a torch, a wand, a police vehicle parked nearby with emergency lights flashing so we can warn people.

"It might be a situation whereby if somebody doesn't get out and do something, the incident could be compounded by a further crash, but again, we would ask that the person considering undertaking that role get on their mobile phone first, let the emergency service know, tell them that they are going to direct traffic until police arrive and police might assess and say 'no, don't do that'.

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"You'd want to be wearing some kind of high-visibility clothing if you've got it, perhaps a torch.

"Some cars nowadays come with cones and triangles, etcetera, that you can put out in an emergency-type situation.

Are there any legal implications?

Inspector Ward said some people might have concerns about legal ramifications arising from assisting at a crash scene or rendering first aid.

"I'm not aware of anybody being sued for directing traffic at a crash site, in 30 years in the job," he said.

"I think there's a moral obligation placed upon anybody to render assistance to anybody whose life could be at stake, be it from a crash or any other circumstance.

"And when you look at Australia across the board, whether it's a crash or an assault, generally members of the public do intervene for the right reasons and they generally do the right thing."

Don't forget to call triple-0

Ambulance Tasmania's manager of statewide service Garry White reiterated the need to call triple-0 immediately.

"Our call-takers are trained to tell you exactly what to do with those patients, whether to touch them, when not to touch them, where to stand, where not to stand," he said.

Triple-0 staff can advise bystanders how to stay safe. Image via ABC.

"The first thing we want people to be aware of is dangers; dangers for the patient, dangers for themselves.

"You need to be aware of broken glass, fuel on the road, broken powerlines, lots of things to be aware of on the scene, so first of all you need to ensure you are safe and then the patient is going to be safe.

Mr White said patients should not be moved unless it is absolutely safe and necessary to do so.

"People are worried about spinal injuries, they're worried about making injuries worse, this is why we say you don't need to move these patients, we have the equipment and we can do that safely without further injuring the patients," he said.

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"Hands off, rest and reassurance, talk to the patient, tell them everything is going to be OK, emergency services are on their way to them, and don't move the patient unless they are in danger," he said.

"So we just want [helpers] to stand by their side, if it's safe to do so, and talk them through it and keep them nice and calm.

"By providing reassurance [you] keep the heart rate down, keeping them calm, keeping the anxiety down. It actually has a physiological response on the patient as well.

"We don't want people getting nervous, it sends their heart-rate higher, it can make bleeding worse."

Mr White urged even those who have first aid training to call triple-0 because accident scenes could be stressful.

What happens afterwards?

Witnessing an accident can be traumatic and have obvious ramifications at the time and later.

Mr White pointed out that often it was the public coming across accidents who felt the effects of trauma.

"[Emergency services] often don't get to see many of these accidents happen, we turn up after the event," he said.

Kim Bartlett from Road Trauma Support Tasmania said her service was there to help crash victims, but also those who had come across a crash.

Ms Bartlett said trauma reactions were unique to the individual and could manifest in different ways, including panic attacks, depression, anger, flashbacks and sleep disturbance.

"Two people can see the same crash and have two different reactions, a lot of that can depend on life experiences," she said.

"We are there for anybody that needs it. It is so much better to call and ask for help than rather bottle it up inside."

The service is available to people across the state of all ages.

This post originally appeared on ABC News.


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