How To Respond To A Motorcycle Accident

How To -

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While out on the road, you see a motorcycle accident. What should you do and how can you help? We talked to the Orange County, California Fire Authority to find out.

Photo: Wes was first-on-scene to this lane splitting accident. He stopped traffic, shut down the bike and made sure the rider was safe and stable (and the car drivers didn’t leave) until police and fire services showed up.

1. Call 911. You’d be surprised how often this is forgotten or delayed. Do it right away, every minute counts when someone’s life is at risk. Report the exact location of the incident and basic details of what has happened.

2. Do not attempt to remove helmets. According to Captain Jon Muir of the Orange County Fire Authority, you stand a chance of doing more damage if you try and remove a rider’s helmet.

“Do not ever remove a crash helmet,” he says. “There could be vertebrae fractures or something even worse. Our own paramedic teams will leave a helmet on a rider until they have been taken to the trauma center to be checked out.”

3. Make the area as safe as possible. Other traffic or similar hazards could pose further risk to both the accident victim and yourself. This may require asking passersby and other road users to act as look-outs or signalers and help with directing traffic.

“This is so important,” says Muir. “There have been several incidents where people have been hurt tyring to help a motorcyclist simply because they area has not been made safe. Make sure you are safe before offering any First Aid or other assistance.”

Only then should you return to the injured person. But, on no account, should you attempt to move them until the EMTs arrive.

4. If you’re trained to do so, provide CPR and/or First Aid.

“If you have had proper training, you should check on whether the injured person is breathing, as they may have gone into traumatic arrest and their heart has stopped. This happens more frequently to people involved in motorcycle accidents,” says Muir.

“Potentially, a person in that condition has around six minutes to live before they suffer irreversible brain damage or, perhaps, die,” continues Muir. “But, with First Aid and CPR skills, you can help maintain the blood flow around the body and reduce some of the risk until emergency services arrive.”

“We encourage everyone to attend a basic CPR and First Aid class, you never know when you are going to need it. Most people don’t do this, but we can’t stress how important it is if you ever find yourself in a situation such as being the first on the scene of a motorcycle incident. Most large cities organize CPR and First Aid classes for residents and there are other organizations like the American Red Cross who offer a wide range of classes. “

Muir also recommends carrying a First Aid kit and warning triangles in your vehicle. “You can find a small kit at most drug stores that is suitable for being carried on a motorcycle,” he says.

For further information about First Aid and CPR classes in your area, visit the American Red Cross website. Classes start at $70.

  • Peter Swinton

    Ask Captain John Muir how you clear an airway or perform the rescue breathing component of CPR without removing a full face helmet! Airway and breathing are higher priorities then risk of spinal injury. I doesn’t matter if the spine is preserved if the victim is no longer breathing.
    I was a ski patroller for 10 years. There is a 2-person technic for removing a full face helmet which reduces the risk of spinal injury. One person stabilizes the neck and spine while the other opens or cuts the chin strap and pivots the helmet off the head. You can then get access to the mouth and nose to clear the airway and perform full CPR.
    He is also wrong about not moving the victim. Danger of further injury is the highest priority. If the victim is next to car with leaking gas and is in danger of exploding, the first thing to do (after calling 911) is to pull him clear of the danger zone. No point both you and the victim getting burned to death while you try to perform CPR on a guy with a full face helmet on!

    • http://RideApart.com/ Wes Siler

      Right, and I think the idea is that most normal members of the public aren’t going to have the training, skills or know-how to do any of that. So, for general advice, the above works. If you have further abilities, then use them.

      • Peter Swinton

        I still disagree with the absolutes in the article.
        “Do not ever remove a crash helmet,” Hopefully the courses you recommend do include the proper technic for removing a helmet as part of their CPR training.
        “But, on no account, should you attempt to move them until the EMTs arrive.” Even without proper training, it still better to move a living victim than to leave him in danger of an explosion. You have to use judgement. If the explosion looks imminent, you don’t want to turn yourself into the 2nd victim.

        • ryd

          I learned through CPR training that it is best that if you can’t remove such things like a helmet. Go ahead and continue pumping the chest to keep the blood flowing.

          • Peter Swinton

            Keeping the blood flowing is about keeping oxygen moving to the brain. If the airway is blocked, then the victim isn’t getting oxygen. Agreed that there is no reason to remove the helmet if the victim is breathing.
            As an aside, this shows 1 clear benefit of modular helmets. The airway can be accessed without putting the spine at risk.

            • Tim Watson

              Jon Muir was adamant in talking with us that there is never a reason to ever take off an injured rider’s helmet – full face or modular. His position was that you should make the rider safe and comfortable and let the EM teams make that decision but as he said the EM teams nearly always take the injured party to the hospital with their helmet still on.

            • atgatthd

              Look up “cardiocerebral resuscitation” (CCR) to understand why clearing the airway and rescue breaths aren’t recommended for bystanders and basic EMT’s. It’s changed a lot. Some protocols even have advanced prehospital providers place an oxygen mask over the patients mouth and do x rounds of compressions before even touching the airway in certain arrest scenarios, and they can intubate a pt! (put a breathing tube in.)

              Do not remove the helmet :-)

            • Generic42

              Circulating the blood can often provide enough oxygen to prevent permanent brain damage for 10-15 minutes, please see the updated CCR recommendations as others have pointed out. Chest compressions are more likely to save a life than the old CPR standard when done by a non-professional.

              • Michael Sue Jones

                im a volunteer first aider for the wessex ambulance service and we are trained to deal with different accidents, we are trained to deal with motorcycle accidents and what has been put by tim watson is what we do, we dont remove the helmet, we calm them down and if we cant find a pulse then we would use hands only cpr

        • stever

          When have you ever seen a car explode? Life isn’t a movie. It does not happen.

          If you carry warning triangles or flares, you’ll never have to move a victim.

          New CPR doesn’t involve rescue breathing. Moving the already-oxygenated blood around the body into the brain is key. The idea is that, if the paramedics don’t get there before the blood runs out of oxygen, the victim is dead, anyway. Rescue breathing didn’t make enough of a difference, I think.

          • grb

            your right, life isnt a movie, and he’s not talking about explosions like in movies where they bump your fender and the car explodes, he’s talking about a car violently and rapidly igniting do to fuel leaking, which happens very very often, I mean you know they are filled with a very flammable liquid, dont you?.. I was in a car accident and the car literally exploded into a fire ball, instantly.

            • stever

              how are you alive

              • grb

                with lots of luck and some 3rd degree burns.. Gas leaked from the car, it erupted in flames swallowing the whole car and me for an instant, not kidding, I saw everything in red, I was very lucky I was already on my way out of the car, somehow my pants got wet with gas so I was still on fire running on the street, people helped me. the car was on flames from bumper to bumper literally. And by erupting in flames I mean BAM instantly, like you would imagine a gas explosion

            • Generic42

              I understand you’ve been through a horrific event and I’m glad you made it out with your life. But actually, they don’t happen very, very often. Car fires only occur in less than 1/2 of one percent of crashes.

              http://www.michigan.gov/msp/0,4643,7-123-1589_1711_4587-13689–,00.html

              • grb

                Ok, good point, I guess my estimate that this happens “very very often” is not founded and just based on what I have seen on race tracks and from the crashes I have seen in the Wrecked Exotics web site, allot of burnt cars, maybe it happens more often with sports cars, who knows, I understand thats no way of making statistics. But thats not the point, Stever said that explosions only happens in movies, I just wanted to say thats not true (at least subsonic explosions)..

                And I still think Peter is right about questioning the decision if risk of worsening an injury overcomes the risk of a deadly situations like fire, which was just an example he used, could be something else like a mud slide or what ever, even if your in a rare .5% situation, maybe sometimes you should move an injured rider. I think some judgment is required in this situations

              • madmusk

                What about motorcycle fires? I can’t lean my bike on its side without dumping gasoline everywhere.

          • diver0129

            It’s my personal opinion that one reason they no longer recommend rescue breathing is because many people are afraid to and may not offer assistance at all. By recommending chest compressions only, they are hoping that more people will be willing to help. Most responders that I know still give rescue breaths if they think it’s needed. Like if the persons color is way off.

            People need to use a little logic. If someone is in a car, you don’t move them. But if the car is on fire, of course you move them. The helmet is a similar situation. I would just be damn sure you are qualified to make that kind of decision before you remove the helmet. The important thing is that people are educated and know that removing the helmet is possibly a dangerous act.

    • Christopher Rector

      Most states now have laws on the books to protect civilian first responders, as long as you are not exceeding your first aide training you are covered by these laws. In first aide classes they always train to secure the patient and responders from additional harm or injury. Once the patient is secured in a safe area then work on the ABC’s (airway, breathing, and circulation). It’s not suggested to remove a helmet except for anything but the most extreme instance, if the rider is breathing keep the helmet on. Otherwise, it requires two people to secure the rider and helmet for proper removal, then keep the helmet and give it to the medical responders when they arrive on scene. It may have damage to the shell that would indicate possible head trauma that is not obvious because of bruising/bleeding/etc.

      No one ever wants to come up on a scene like this. If you do and do not have the proper training, the best thing you can do is call 911 and try to secure the area until first responders get there.

      Christopher
      MSF Instructor

    • http://ericrshelton.com/ Eric R. Shelton

      Rescue breathing has fallen out of favor in modern CPR. The thought is that the blood is oxygenated enough and circulation is far more important. So don’t worry about the full face helmet. Determine if they’re breathing/have a pulse and if the answer is “no” simply begin compressions. That gets the blood moving AND avoids further spinal injury.

      • Peter Swinton

        It’s been a few years and I didn’t realize the change to no longer require rescue breathing, but that still does not deal with the airway priority. Without removing a full face helmet, there is no way to properly check and clear an airway. Whether it was swallowing gum, or choking on vomit or blood, it would be easy for a rider to end up with a blocked airway in an accident scenario. I attended a serious ski accident where the victim was unconscious and not breathing. Opening the airway was enough to get him breathing again. Chest compressions weren’t necessary, and wouldn’t have done anything if the airway remained blocked. I can’t see risk of spinal injury being elevated to take priority over clearing an airway.

        • http://ericrshelton.com/ Eric R. Shelton

          I think what you’re missing is that the airway is no longer considered a priority. I know that sounds insane, but the mounting body of evidence says so. You’ve got one personal story, and because it was your personal experience it’s very cemented in your mind. But that was one story out of ten years you said you had on the job. When you look ALL the cases (as AHA and others do) and see neurologically intact survival increase 250%-300% from going compression only [http://www.emsworld.com/article/10321029/cardiocerebral-resuscitation], it becomes hard to refute the evidence. Medical best practices change over time. Not removing the helmet is recommended by professionals for a reason. I’m honestly not trying to start an argument, but you may want to do some research and get current before being so determined to keep getting the last word insisting you’re still right or know better.
          For the record, I am NOT a medical professional. My dad is an EMT and my wife’s a nurse, so I hear about this stuff all the time. I just do what I’m told. LOL.

          • Peter Swinton

            Since you want to make this personal, this will be my last post. You can have the final word.

            The article on CCR is about a witnessed cardiac arrest, or where it is generally assumed that the arrest was the primary incident. They put forward the argument against forced ventilation, but assume the ability for passive ventilation, at least a partially open airway. They also state “This is in stark contrast to respiratory arrests, such as drowning, where continued normal cardiac output in the face of inadequate oxygen results in rapid depletion of arterial oxygen content, leading to hypotension and, finally, secondary cardiac arrest. Here ventilatory support is clearly needed, and until better information is available, the AHA’s 30:2 ratio is recommended.”
            A motorcycle accident is much more likely to be this type of scenario, where the trauma has the potential to block the airway or otherwise stop breathing, possibly leading to secondary cardiac arrest. It appears that CCR is intended to deal with a specific cardiac situation within the larger structure of first aid priorities, i.e. 1 – danger of further injury, 2 – airway, 3 – breathing, 4 – circulation. It does not appear to be intended to replace the ABCs.

    • Generic42

      Hands only CPR is recommend for John Q. Public, medical professionals no longer advise rescue breathing as part of basic CPR process, therefore no reason to remove a helmet. This is a recommend change in the last few years.

      http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/CPRAndECC/HandsOnlyCPR/Hands-Only-CPR_UCM_440559_SubHomePage.jsp

    • Ricky Mcconnell

      Hi Peter, you and I seem to be the only one’s that would take a helmet off when there was no sign of life? If full face helmet 1 person supports the neck and the other takes the helmet of in an S shape, open face helmet a bit easier, we went though this in a class room scenario in Belfast City Hospital 6/7 yrs ago recommended still to this day, so easy to stand back, wait 20 minutes for an ambulance for someone to be pronounced dead because of airway blockage, swallowed tongue etc, certainly know what I would do, and I hope my friend’s would do it for me?

    • Matt Mason

      I’m an EMT-basic, your advice is wrong under modern protocol in NY, although I think other states have similarly updated protocols.
      You leave the helmet to avoid complications/trauma to the spine.
      Modern CPR uses CAB. If the pt has a pulse then the patient most likely has a patent airway and is breathing (which can be confirmed with chest rise/fall and/or condensation on a small mirror). If a pulse is palpated then the risk of causing spine damage by removing the helmet is too great to justify removing the helmet to check the airway.
      In the EMT basic class we were back-boarding people with the motorcycle helmet on. We only took it off if the instructor told us that we couldn’t palpate a pulse.

      However if the pt was dead (no pulse) then you can take off the helmet b/c they’re technically dead and you don’t have to worry about messing up their spine. Ensuring a constant circulation of oxygen to the heart and brain then becomes priority.

      • CC

        Great explanation Matt! Thank you. I was thinking in your line of reasoning. I am an RN, ride a Volusia, AND have also been the victim of an unfortunate bike accident. At the scene, I was conscious, and my helmet was retained until I arrived at the ER, where the doctor assessed it was safe to remove. I wear a tight full head/face helmet which would be difficult to remove without significant tugging. You are absolutely right… With no pulse, life cannot be preserved, so only in that case should a helmet be removed at the scene, since the result of not removing it at that point is death.

  • Alexander Dillon

    Awesome guys. Good guy Wes to the rescue!
    When are we getting our weekly RideApart Vids again guys?!?!
    Im dying over here!

    • http://RideApart.com/ Wes Siler

      This fall. We’re going to be doing the show bigger and better than ever and we’ll be able to tell you why very soon.

      • Alexander Dillon

        Cheers!

        • Alex Ondarza

          You guys, remember, when you’re on a bike, you are the bumper. I didn’t know Alexander Dillon, but he was my cousin’s friend.
          He died a few days ago after a motorcycle accident. I know you guys like to say, “Look twice for motorcycles,” but sometimes it’s hard to judge how soon you will catch up to our car when you are going 120 mph.

  • Clint Keener

    This past weekend I saw a squid and his girlfriend hauling butt down the 55. Then a few miles up, I saw a less severe version of the above pic, with the squids bike on the ground. They were both standing up though. But I didn’t stop, since they looked to be ok.

    Heavy stuff though.

  • Marc

    What was the outcome of the crash shown? How’s the rider?

    • http://RideApart.com/ Wes Siler

      Compound fracture in at least one arm. Probably some ribs. Bad concussion. He was unconscious, but breathing the entire time I was with him. Some minor cuts and scrapes, but no major bleeding. Took the EMTs about 20 minutes to get there.

      Dude was wearing a helmet, real jacket (with back protector) and gloves, which is why he lived. Was riding like an unskilled moron and head butted that Pilot at like 35mph when the Corolla driver crossed the double yellows into the HOV lane, cutting him off. I was behind him when it happened.

      • thumpthump

        fortunately he had the judgement to wear some gear, sadly that amount of judgement was not nearly enough. hope he learns a bit.

      • atgatthd

        Hey wes,
        On behalf of every motorcycle rider out there. Thanks for stopping. I know I’d be grateful if someone stopped and did everything you did.
        Cheers.

      • JerseyRider

        When you say he was driving like an “unskilled moron” what was he doing exactly and how could he have avoided the accident?

  • Heather McCoy

    Really a good article. Riders like to help other riders; it’s just how we are. Because I’m trained at a fairly high level (and a hopeless do-gooder), I always stop if I come across an accident before EMS arrives; I’m always afraid some well-meaning individual is going to do something devastatingly wrong if I don’t. I’ve seen this happen with tragic results. I stopped at just such a scene two weeks ago: a motorcyclist slammed into the back of an 18-wheeler. The rider was down in the median, helmeted, not moving, and didn’t appear to be breathing. When I put my hand on his chest to feel for respirations or hearbeat, his shirt moved just enough to reveal that his neck was gone. As in, not there. Gone. All I could do was stay with him until police arrived and prevent other people from seeing what I saw. Now, how about an article on paying attention when you ride?

    • Adam

      ..Jesus. I’ve seen a fair share of guys brewed up from IED’s at various states of….dismemberment. Never a missing neck though. That’s crazy.

      • Heather McCoy

        Yeah; like my friend Christi from SportbikeTrackGirl says…you can’t put that kind of toothpaste back in the tube. Still tryin’ to shake that one off!

        • Adam

          How delightfully morbid. No ma’am, you certainly cannot. You know you’re too far gone when someone mistakes your crash scene for dropped lasagna.

  • Adam

    Just got taken down on Sunday after a mere 34 hours with my baby (a 2010 Thruxton). Driver made a blind left, left me about 30 feet in the outside lane which he claimed “looked clear”. Tried to threshold it but had to give so much front to slow down in such short distance I high-sided and waxed at 60kph. Just missed going under his rear axle. Popped up pretty quick and could see a pretty good swarm of people and vehicles rushing to help. I was shocked. They even got his plates so we could track him down, because of course he just straight up bailed the scene. An odd number of first aiders in the group too; myself included. Had all the gear on and made off with just a scratch – seriously, a scratch – on my right knee. I think maybe a more experienced rider could have saved it, but my skills in that brief span had no chance no matter what bike. Can’t wait til she’s outta the shop and I can get back in the saddle. Don’t discount the kindness of others, even in this bizarre day and age!

  • Brandon Carlson

    The advice about not removing the helmet is so important. I hope this information gets to a lot of people as more lives will be saved.

  • Piglet2010

    0. Tell the downed rider that his/her bike is OK, as a morale booster.

  • Ricky Mcconnell

    Screamin & shoutin leave helmet on, no sign of life 1 person support the neck the other get the helmet off, a guy here in Belfast, Northern Ireland, a few years died when his helmet was left on he had swallowed his tongue? big call to make but if this where to kill you? you would need to be at a scene to make a snap judgement, you may save a life, on the other hand! we have been advised at road first aid & cpr classes no life get helmet off.

    • Generic42

      This is not the recommendation from the medical community. One incident does not counteract the mountain of evidence based medicine that helmet removal by an untrained person is more likely to cause permanent injury and death than leaving it in place.

      • sdyank

        I ride with an Icon Airmada that is difficult to get on and off by myself but fits like a champ once it’s on. In the case that I wrecked and depended on the kindness of others to look after me after I wrecked I can’t imagine the kind of neck and spinal damage that one, two or even three Good Samaritans jacked up on adrenaline and under duress could do trying to get that lid off of my head even if they tried to do it carefully. Maybe I should get a sticker on my helmet that says: “do not remove until EMS arrives but you can fish out my tongue, chewing gum or whatever else is blocking my airway through my opened visor until the ambulance showed up.”

  • alex

    the funny thing most of these commentators wouldn’t have done a damn thing in real life and yet will spend all day arguing facts they found on the internet like its first hand knowledge.

    Rule 0 is to make sure everyone is safe – not just the rider, often times people park there cars in traffic assuming it’s somehow necessary – there has been more than a few times I’ve had to tell people to pull there cars out of traffic and get out of the street / highway in busy traffic – always make the smallest hole possible and if that means having to drag someone to the shoulder or into a vehicle to be transported to the shoulder be prepared to make the call – i’ve seen people left in the roadway run over and it would be better to risk injury to prevent death.

    Rule 1 is if you see an accident call 9/11 and return to the scene if humanly possible, don’t let the operator tell you units are on the way and to continue in the opposite direction if you are headed that way.

  • Andrew Kinsler

    A few months ago, I was splitting lanes behind another rider on the 110 south in gridlock traffic. About 40 feet in front of me, he locked up the front wheel while avoiding a truck that cut him off. He walked away, but from my vantage point, he was very lucky. I pushed his bike to the shoulder across 4 lanes of traffic, as he limped to safety. He was wearing an H&M leather jacket, mechanix gloves, and timberland boots. I told him that he would be ok, but to wait 20 minutes for the adrenaline to wear off before he decided if he could continue riding.

    Gear up and buy some frame&axle sliders.

  • Vracktal

    I’d add *pick their bike up and set it on the stand if possible* to the list, mainly because a downed bike can leak fuel everywhere and the last thing you need is a fire next to a guy you can’t move.

  • http://dashaman.com dashaman

    Providing CPR is conflicting the “Don’t remove Helmet” just my two cents.

    Good Point @peterswinton:disqus

  • Mugget

    All good advice for serious accidents.

    But if it’s just one guy ran off the road and he’s walking around, trying to pull his bike out of a ditch – no need to get all “captain safety” and call the police. I don’t know what it’s like in other parts of the world, but if the police attend an accident here, the person who crashed will receive a neg driving ticket.

    So in the very unlikely event that I crash my bike and you see I’m okay – do not phone the police, thank you!

  • Guest

    I wear a tight full head/face helmet which would be difficult to remove
    without significant tugging. As stated before, the only scenario I can think of where it would be appropriate to remove a helmet is if the victim has no
    pulse. Without a pulse, life cannot be preserved. So ONLY in that case should a helmet be
    removed at the scene and full CPR be initiated, since the result of not removing it at that point
    is certain death.

  • CC

    I wear a tight full head/face helmet which would be difficult to remove without significant tugging. As stated before, the only scenario I can
    think of where it would be appropriate to remove a helmet is if the
    victim has no pulse. Without a pulse, life cannot be preserved. So ONLY in that case should a helmet be removed at the scene and full CPR be initiated, since the result of not removing it at that point is certain death. If on-scene responders are not CPR knowledgeable or at all unsure of how to check for a pulse, then they should call 911, then support the victims neck/helmet in it’s current position (in case the victim wakes up and tries to move) and wait for EMS to arrive.

  • Ralph Lewis

    With all of the talk of airway and fullf-ace helmets, I wear a full-face with a flip-up chin bar. Not that I want to go down, but just a consideration. A $400 investment is nothing compared to a $10,000 plus motorcycle.