When the worst happens.
As motorcycle riders, we’re all aware of the risks that come with the passion. Whether they involve another vehicle (at fault or not) or only the rider, crashes are one of the risks we accept to be exposed to when we hit the road and that we actively try to avoid through increased awareness and skills development.
No matter how careful we are, however, we remain vulnerable and we sometimes have to deal with the worst-case scenario. But exactly how can we deal with the worst-case scenario? If—God forbid—we’re the ones to go down, we hope to be in the presence or to be found by people who know what they’re doing. If one of your friends is the victim or that you stumble upon a crash scene, here are a few, then you get to be the person who knows what they’re doing thanks to these few simple steps.
Training, Training, Training
To find out what simple actions people on crash scenes can take to be as useful as they can be without any formal training, I turned to the expertise of Chair of the Board of Directors for International Trauma Life Support (ITLS) and former motorcycle paramedic in the U.K., Anthony Connelly.
In his opinion, the very first thing any rider should consider doing is get some sort of First Aid training. Learning the basics of emergency care can make a world of difference in how you approach a crash scene. That being said, whether you receive training or not, you can still help.
This is also when carrying a First Aid kit on your bike comes in handy. This allows you to keep a few necessities with you at all times including gloves and foil blankets. You can easily find motorcycle-friendly kits online—I highly recommend you get one.
Call the Emergency Services
This is one of the very first steps anyone needs to take after a crash happened. Make sure help is on the way sooner rather than later. If you stumble across a crash scene and there’s no one around or that you witness the incident, call the services yourself. If there’s a group of people present and that you’re able to assist the victim, assign someone specific to the task while you intervene.
Before I dive any deeper, understand this: everyone reacts differently to this kind of situation. We all want to be the strong, level-headed one who takes charge and helps out but it doesn’t always happen that way. If you are not able to intervene either physically or mentally, then don’t. Call the emergency services, try to get other road users to stop and step in if you’re able to, but don’t get hands-on if you don’t feel you have the capacity to handle it.
Secure the Scene
According to Anthony, if you’re going to provide efficient first care to a crash victim, you need to make sure that the surroundings are safe. There’s no point in risking your own life to help someone if you’re going to end up in the same place.
If the crash happened near a road (I’m talking a secondary road, not a highway), find a way to slow down or even stop the flow of traffic—safely of course. Either park your motorcycle visibly on the road with a turn signal on (and by visibly, I mean not at the end of a curve or right at the bottom of a dip) or use emergency flares and/or road signs, if they’re provided in your First Aid kit.
The goal here is to make sure that no car will drive past the scene at full speed and endanger the helpers or even the injured rider himself.
Check the crashed motorcycle. Is the engine still running? Are there fluids leaking? Make sure the ignition is off and if possible, pick the bike up to avoid any further spillage which represents a fire hazard.
Stop the Bleeding
If the injured rider is bleeding profusely (Anthony used the words “gushing” and “squirting” to refer to the severity of the bleeding implied) then you immediately need to apply pressure on the wound. In the best of worlds, you should wear medical gloves or even put a plastic bag on your hands to avoid getting in direct contact with the victim’s blood. If the rider is conscious, you can even have them apply the pressure.
Use any type of compress you can find (gauze from a First Aid kit, clean towel or blanket, a t-shirt). According to Harvard Medical School’s Health Publishing, do not remove a soaked compress—it could disturb the clot that is forming. Add another compress on top and keep piling them on, as much as needed.
Bleeding out is one of the most immediate threats to a rider’s life.
Assess the Rider
Are they conscious? If so, it's time to enter “friend mode”. Open the visor so that they feel less claustrophobic and breathe better, you can also undo the neck tie so that they’re more comfortable, keep their head still, talk to them calmingly and keep them awake and talking. This does two things: it helps them relax in a stressful situation which will help to keep them still, and it allows you to continually assess the situation.
By keeping the helmet and (hopefully) the rest of the body still, you avoid any potential spinal injuries from worsening. By keeping the rider awake and talking, it allows you to notice any changes or loss of consciousness.
Pay attention to the sound of their breathing—is there a gurgling sound coming from their throat? If there is, it could mean that they are choking (warning, it gets gruesome) on their own blood or even throw up. This is the only scenario in which removing the helmet becomes a necessity.
Anthony mentions that there are methods to perform the maneuver and even courses to learn to do it safely though he didn’t go into details (the methods are best demonstrated.)
I recommend you seek proper training for this—just like First Aid training. That being said, if it's not something you have access to in the near future, this video gives a few good pointers. Note that modern-day helmets also have emergency release systems that allow you to quickly detach and remove the cheek pads, making the helmet easier to remove.
If the rider is unconscious, you need to check if they are breathing. Look at their chest: is it going up and down regularly? If you can, also check whether there’s a loss of circulation. If that’s the case, Anthony says the skin will look blueish and feel cooler to the touch then the rest of the body. If either or both of those symptoms are present, he says that this is the time to start cardiopulmonary resuscitation or chest compressions, commonly known as CPR.
To figure out how fast you need to compress the chest while performing CPR, several experts recommend compressing to the rhythm of “Staying Alive” by the Bee Gees.
While mouth-to-mouth was previously closely associated with CPR with guidelines recommending you alternate between compressions and blowing air in the victim's mouth, Anthony says that it is not a necessary action to take anymore. Chest compressions are the most important intervention you can perform.
Keep the Rider Warm
Conscious or not, make sure the rider stays warm. First Aid kits will usually contain foil blankets, but if you don’t have access to one, anything you can cover the rider with that will help keep them warm is a good option—even your jacket if you’re willing to make that sacrifice.
Before getting in touch with Anthony for the interview, I spoke with an acquaintance who is a paramedic in Ontario, Canada. Before pointing me in the ITLS’ direction to find further information about the basic steps to a roadside intervention, she gave me similar pointers as the ones Anthony provided but also added aftercare to her list. Aftercare for you.
Performing CPR on someone can have a long-lasting effect on someone and it’s important to be aware of that and to seek help if needed. She mentioned that certain regional emergency services can provide this sort of help and will even contact the people directly to follow up.
One way or the other, be aware that providing First Aid care to a rider who’s been in a crash can have psychological repercussions. If you were ever placed in this difficult situation, know that there are resources out there to help if it turns into something you are having a hard time coping with.