WITNESS

How you can help as a witness

WITNESS

As a witness, you have the power and responsibility of determining the outcome of a crash especially in situations with disputed liability (driver vs. cyclist). However, when suddenly encountering a crash, many people (expectedly) panic and often forget some key things you can do to help the situation. Here are some things to be aware of.

Get the cyclist off the road
Most crashes happen on roads where cars are present – ensure that the cyclist is safe from oncoming traffic. If the cyclist is not safe to move by yourself, quickly get help and create a barrier between oncoming cars and the cyclist. When moving, try to be as careful as possible.

Take photos
Depending on the magnitude of the crash, the cyclist may not be in any shape to take photos of the situation. As the witness, you can help by making observations and taking photos that may later help in resolving a case.

Communicate
The cyclist may be able to get up and may feel that they do not need to leave in an ambulance. See the section on “Post Crash” and communicate things that will help the cyclist such as leaving in an ambulance.

Take notes
Witnessing a crash can be traumatic, in high stress situations, we tend to forget details. Write down everything you saw that happened to ensure you have the facts right in the event there is a liability dispute.

Call 911
Let the police and paramedics, not the cyclist, decide if the cyclist is okay to go home or must go to the hospital.

Advocate for the cyclist
Take a look at the police report and make sure that the facts are written down correctly. A lot of times police will cite that the cyclist was at fault even if they were not, because the paperwork is easier (terrible, but sadly it does happen).

FROM A MEDIC’S POINT OF VIEW

First and foremost, make sure that when helping out cyclist post crash, make sure you are safe to do so at all times. If the cyclist is conscious, it is important to ask them, believe it or not, if it is ok if you can help them out.

If the answer is a yes, feel free to assist them with any bleeding (applying  pressure with a clean towel or shirt). If there is a lot of bleeding from an arm or leg, help them keep the limb elevated to slow the blood loss. Moreover, if you see a bone sticking out some place where it shouldn’t be, DO NOT attempt to push it back into place and if anything is impaled into them, go against all instincts and leave it in. If you/they have a water bottle, you can use the water to flush out any gravel or dirt in any cuts or scrapes.

Hopefully they won’t be unconscious, but if they are, there are still plenty of things you can do to help even still.

  • Implied consent – go ahead and assume they want help
  • Move them to a safe place, preferably into the shade – regardless of weather conditions, you’ll want to keep them warm so if possible, cover them with a blanket or jacket).
  • You can perform what is called a rescue drag – where you drag them by their back to a safe place while holding their head in place with your forearms. Holding their head in place is important so that their neck avoids any twisting or tilting. If you have to make a turn while dragging, make sure the turn is as gradual as you can make it. If they wake up mid-moving or while you’re managing any bleeding, let them know what happened and make sure it is OK for you to help them then.
  • Please remember to encourage the cyclist to relax and sit or lay down comfortably until emergency medical services arrive to see them.
  • Remind them that even if they feel OK now it might not last long and waiting to be seen in the Emergency Room is the best thing for them. Money is not a thing they need to worry about if they don’t have insurance.

Also always follow whatever cycling laws your city/county has. Aside from being legal matters they really are basic safety matters and it’ll help you avoid as much trouble as possible. Check out this website from Bike LA City.

*Fun Fact– In the past, California had laws protecting only medically trained people if they helped on the scene of a random accident. So if you weren’t a medic and helped out anyway you could be sued for doing things you’re not trained to do. California finally got rid of this law in early 2017 so if you’ve got a good heart and just want to help please know that so long as you act responsibly, your good deed will go unpunished.

Raymond Adolphus, EMT-B

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