**This article was written in collaboration with Road Guardians, an organization dedicated to teaching motorcyclist first aid and accident scene management. While we consulted with experts, every situation is different. In the event of an injury, it is best to contact emergency services and follow their instructions.
Crashing is probably the greatest fear of any new rider, and is a fairly healthy fear to have in moderation. A little fear tempers the ego, heightens the senses, and makes you more aware of what is going on around you. This is not to say that you should be scared of riding, as you should have that exact same little edge of fear in you whenever you drive a car, keeping you aware of traffic conditions around you.
However, the unfortunate statistic is that in 2018, the latest year complete data is available for, 82,000 riders were involved in accidents resulting in injuries. Of these accidents, a full 40% were single vehicle accidents involving just the motorcycle. It may have been the rider pushing too hard for their skill level, or it may have been a nearly invisible patch of gravel that broke rear wheel traction and sent the bike down. The fact remains that motorcycling does have an edge of danger to it, part of the draw and the excitement of getting out and riding.
One thing that every rider should have, we believe, is some basic knowledge of what to do should a crash happen. It is an unfortunate reality that accidents do happen, bike and car alike, and not many drivers and/or riders are fully aware of what to do should they come upon an accident. It is for this reason that we have joined forces with Road Guardians, a motorcycle first aid and accident scene management organization, to pass along what to do if you come across the scene of an accident.
First On The Scene
Throughout this article, we are going to work with a hypothetical situation:
You are out for a Sunday ride, the roads are relatively clear, it’s sunny, it’s the middle of summer… It’s the perfect day for riding. Up ahead, however, you see a motorcycle on its side on the shoulder of the road, and you see a rider down a few feet beyond it, rocking back and forth in obvious pain, holding their left arm. No one else has stopped to help. You are literally the first person that pulls over, puts down your kickstand, and runs over to help.
As well, we will be referring to the downed rider as “the injured,” to differentiate between yourself as a rider, other riders that may pull over to assist, and/or drivers that pull over to assist.
Learn & Know PACT
What is PACT, you ask? It is a very useful acronym for the proper steps to follow when coming across an accident.
- Prevent further injuries
- Assess the situation
- Contact EMS
- Treat injuries
Preventing further injury is the first, and most important, step at an accident scene. The injured may not be entirely aware of where they are on the road, as their sole focus is most likely on their pain and the shock of having an accident, and they may in fact be rolling on the ground or stumbling around in a lane of traffic. If the injured person is stumbling around, the best thing you can do is move them to the closest road shoulder as quickly, but as safely, as possible.
Another important factor in preventing further injury is something that may take you all of two seconds to do, but flipping the kill switch or ignition of their bike off should be done as soon as possible. This shuts off all the electronics, stops the engine if it is still running, and stops fuel and oil pumps from circulating flammable materials. If it is possible, once the injured is out of the roadway, and again only if possible without danger to yourself or the injured, move the bike out of the roadway.
Most importantly, make the accident scene visible. This can be done as simply as placing out a battery-powered strobing road flare that should be part of any emergency kit, or parking your bike off the roadway 50 to 100 feet before the accident, and hanging a reflective vest or something high visibility off the tail. Remember, bikes can be replaced, they are, after all, complex assemblies of metal and plastic. Human life always takes precedence, and if it means you need to put your bike in harm’s way to prevent the patient from being run over by traffic, then your bike is expendable. If you absolutely need a lane of traffic stopped, most drivers will stop or avoid the lane if the accident is there, and you can flag down one of those drivers to stay on the scene with their hazards on.
In our hypothetical situation, the injured is already on the inside shoulder, with the bike down in the shoulder as well, so thankfully we can park our bike in the shoulder as well, out of traffic. This presents you, the responding rider, with a good idea of what may have happened as well, as along most medians on highways and freeways are concrete dividers. Don’t conclusively state “they hit the median!” but evaluate potential environmental factors of further injury as you approach.
This is part of assessing the situation, which can be done concurrently to preventing further injury. What we mean by this is to look at where the accident occurred. Is the injured lying in a shallow stream of cold water? You have hypothermia to consider, even in the middle of summer. Are there rocks, a cliffside, or a high curb where the accident occurred? The injured may have blunt force trauma injuries, especially internal injuries you may not immediately detect. Things like these can be crucial to effectively treat an injured rider.
Another part of assessing a situation is making a quick note of obvious injuries. Now that you’ve pulled over, placed your bike 50 to 100 feet before the injured, and you’re fairly sure that traffic will not run either of you over, approach the injured rider. In our hypothetical, we can see that the reason the injured is rolling around in pain is that their left arm, which they are holding, is bent unnaturally along the forearm.
In this case, the most obvious injury is a broken arm, with two bones most likely broken. As you approach as well, call out to the injured rider calmly, such as “Hey buddy, I’m here to help. Does it hurt anywhere else other than your arm?” If they say anything, anything, related to the words “Back” or “Neck,” gently but firmly insist that they lay as still as possible. If they try to get up, you may need to firmly but calmly insist that they do not get up, to prevent further injuries. If they continue to try to get up, gently add a shoulder touch with more calm, firmly worded instructions. “Don’t move, buddy. Stay down, you might have some back injuries and we don’t want to risk you making them worse.”
Do a “wiggle check” as well as part of your assessment. It sounds silly, but because it sounds silly, you’ll most likely remember what to do. “Hey buddy, can you wiggle your toes? Can you feel my hand on your shin here? Can you wiggle the fingers on your right hand?” This is part of a spinal check as well, to make sure that feeling and motion are still possible in the extremities. If they report any sharp “pins and needles” feelings during any part of the wiggle check, treat the injured as if they have a confirmed spinal injury.
Also, gently feel their stomach. If it is hard and has no give, assume internal injuries. If it is soft and has some give, but they report sharp pains, again, assume internal injuries.
Now that you have a quick assessment of the patient, it is time to call EMS or professional emergency aid. In North America, you call 9-1-1. In Australia and New Zealand, you call 0-0-0. In the UK, you call 9-9-9. Familiarize yourself with your local emergency number, and know it by heart. When reporting the accident, speak calmly and over-pronunciate your words using common language and not trying to use “big” words.
This is a trick to make sure you speak slowly enough that the emergency operator can record your report. Most, if not all, emergency operators will either answer by asking “Where is the emergency?” or “Is the patient breathing?” Respond with what they ask, namely the address or approximate location of the accident, or yes or no depending on if the injured rider is breathing.
Hopefully, by now, other riders or drivers have stopped to help, and if you can direct one of them to call for help, that allows you to remain in control of the accident scene and treat the patient. If you are alone, you will have to report the incident yourself, and the key to getting help as soon as possible is quick, effective, but calm communication. Don’t scream into the phone, but also don’t whisper. Over-pronunciate your words if need be to slow down your speech and make sure the emergency operator can hear you over any static or signal issues.
Another way you can try to contact EMS or emergency services is by texting the emergency number, especially if you are in an area with little to no cell signal, or have a bad voice connection. Texts are sent via what is known as a burst packet, and that packet can punch through a lot easier than a voice signal, which needs to both send and receive at the same time on a continuous connection. If you do text, try to be as precise as possible as to your location. This is not always an option, depending on where you are, but it’s worth a try if you’re where a voice call is not available.
Now that you’ve protected the injured rider from further danger, assessed injuries, and contacted EMS, what remains is treating the patient’s injuries. If you know first aid, good on you, this is a situation where you will definitely use it. If you are not trained in first aid, there are a few very important things to remember to do, and a few very important things to never do unless it is quite literally life-or-death.
- Cover the patient, if possible, with your own jacket, an emergency blanket from a first aid kit, or something warm. Once the adrenaline from the accident wears off, the patient will likely go into some form of shock, which may be mild through to severe.
- Ensure that the injured rider is in a position of comfort. For some, that is lying on their side with the knees bent. For others, it is sitting with their back against a median divider with straightened legs. Whatever the position of comfort for them is that does not worsen their injuries, encourage them the stay in that position. You may have heard elevating the legs can help someone in shock, but we only suggest so if there are no leg injuries, or if there is a lower torso injury where elevated legs might reduce discomfort in the stomach or “belly” area.
- Treat any cuts or abrasions. Lacerations and deep cuts take priority over scrapes and bumps. Apply direct, firm pressure to any lacerations or cuts that are bleeding if you do not suspect a broken bone, and dress the wound if possible. In particular, you do not want to apply pressure in the presence of “the two P’s.” These are “protrusion,” such as a bone sticking through the skin, or “penetration,” such as a piece of metal embedded in the skin. Both of these issues raise the severity of the accident significantly and need to be treated by emergency medical trained responders.
- If you suspect a spinal injury or the patient responded poorly to the wiggle test, support the head and neck as much as possible. DO NOT MOVE the head to do so. If they are sitting up and leaning against something, place your hands on either side of their helmet from in front of them, and tell them what you are doing as you are doing it. If they are lying down, place your hands on either side of the helmet from above their head. Do not pull or push on their head, simply support it so it doesn’t roll side to side or back and forth.
- Remove the helmet except for life-and-death situations. If the helmet interferes with your ability to control the airway such as in the case the injured is not breathing or is vomiting, then and only then should the helmet be removed, being careful to minimize the movement of the neck. Taking a class to learn how to give rescue breathing is highly recommended.
- Move the injured if they are complaining of spinal or neck pain. Again, there are exceptions to this rule, namely extreme danger or to prevent further injury. We mentioned above that if the injured rider had landed in a cold stream as part of their accident, carefully moving the injured while supporting the spine and neck to prevent them from going hypothermic is acceptable, but must be done extremely carefully. Remember, the less movement, the better. Only move them as far as needed to remove them from immediate danger.
- Act hysterical. While your heart may be thundering in your chest, and your mind going a million miles an hour, always strive to project a neutral or even calm demeanor. If you start screaming, yelling, flapping about, etc, it does nothing to help the injured rider, and could even worsen any shock they are in if they start to panic.
- Assume anyone else knows what to do. The entire reason for PACT is to control an accident scene. If someone is screaming, yelling, acting hysterical, ask them firmly but professionally to move away. If someone is there to help you, but doesn’t have anything to do, assign them something. “Hey, could you direct traffic away from us?” “Please call 9-1-1 and tell them where we are and (quick summary of assessment)?” “Hey, could you help move the people crowding around us back a bit?”
A Real-World Example Of PACT Implemented By A Pair Of Riders
Thanks to the continuing improvement in action cameras and helmet cameras, it is possible to see just how quickly PACT can be implemented when arriving at the scene of an accident. To preface this video, moto vlogger KingJulienMoto was riding with a friend in traffic in Slovakia (lane filtering is legal there, hence why they are filtering between slow or stopped traffic) when they come upon a motorcycle crash with a downed rider.
Immediately upon realizing it was a downed rider, they both pulled their bikes off the road into the inside shoulder, the first step of PACT, that being Preventing Further Injury. Cars are already going around the accident, and there are at least two people with high visibility clothing nearby, so the pair immediately go into Assessing The Situation. They notice a man already on the phone to emergency services, so they both focus more of their attention on assessment and take over from the bystander that was with the injured rider. As part of the initial assessment, they are both looking for any pronounced or severe bleeding, or obvious injuries. While they keep their riding gloves on, in this situation, having a trauma or first aid kit and a set of nitrile gloves would be best to protect both themselves and the injured rider from any possible contamination or infection from blood borne diseases.
Immediately, you will notice that they ask vital questions: “Do you have a back protector or just the jacket?” “Do you have any sharp or large pain anywhere?” “Leave the helmet on, can you breathe?” All the while, using very light touches, they reassure the injured rider and gently reinforce to stay down, and stay as still as possible. Another driver has stepped in to direct traffic and clear out those who have stopped to watch or look and is setting up a safe space for the ambulance to arrive in, meaning KingJulienMoto and his friend can remain entirely focused on the downed rider
When the downed rider starts to mention that he is feeling hot and wants to remove his helmet, the two gently insist it stays on and instead unzip his jacket. As there is no back protector in the jacket providing additional support for the spine, and to keep the downed rider comfortable so that they don’t move, this is a compromise that keeps both the downed rider and the two riders comfortable.
With the situation now stabilized and the ambulance on the way, KingJulienMoto starts asking easy, quick questions that test memory, easy information, and help assess if there is a head injury, questions like “How old are you?” “Do you know where you are?” “Do you remember the events leading up to the accident?” and the like. This is both to keep the rider conscious as well as gain information that can be passed on to the paramedics about his mental abilities with a potential head injury. Passing it along is as simple as “he doesn’t know where he is and can’t remember his name,” to “he knows where he is, he remembers everything leading up to the accident.”
The full video is 11 minutes long and shows everything from start to finish with both English subtitles and English information cards. It is well worth the watch, and shows PACT being implemented and mostly completed within 20 seconds of being on the scene. As this is a real-world example, there is a little blood shown from a hand abrasion, and there are a few curse words, so we definitely rate this video as PG-13, but very, very educational.