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What To Do If You Witness A Motorcycle Accident

(Image via christopdesoto/Flickr)
(Image via christopdesoto/Flickr)

The internet is chockablock with “crash porn” and disaster scenes of motorcyclists eating shit. Yes, riding can be dangerous, but maybe a lot less so if you take a second to take some advice on what to do when someone goes down. And you don’t have to be a doctor to be helpful.

I’ve really enjoyed YouTuber Yammie Noob’s lighthearted observational motorcycle-themed comedy, but this video is actually constructive and educational.

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The breakdown is basically:

  • Stay calm
  • Assess the safety of the entire situation, remembering as much as you can
  • Assess the motorcyclist’s condition and provide as much comfort as possible
  • Make sure somebody calls 911.
  • Don’t move the motorcyclist unless absolutely necessary
  • Don’t remove the motorcyclist’s helmet unless absolutely necessary
  • Get out of the paramedic’s way once they show up

If you crash your own motorcycle, you’re going to want to figure out how badly hurt you are and remove yourself from danger if at all possible. Or, you might be too incapacitated to do much of anything.

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But if you witness a bike wreck, a few proactive steps can go a long way in possibly saving the injured motorcyclist’s life.

In a weird twist of fate, it sounds like Yammie Noob got in a fairly serious crash himself not long after uploading this video. Nevertheless, the advice in this clip is solid for everybody else at the scene.

Some of the tips could be called common sense: stay calm, figure out if the injured person is communicative, elect somebody specific to call 911, stay calm, make sure the whole area is safe before you throw yourself into it, stay calm and commit all the details you can to memory.

But one key line in there that might not occur to everybody is “don’t take a down rider’s helmet off.” The only exception to this rule is if the helmet is impeding the person’s ability to breath, or it has to be removed to administer CPR. (CPR is another thing not to mess with if you don’t know what you’re doing.)

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Taking a helmet off somebody might seem like an obvious “first step,” since it can be tough to tell how a person’s feeling with a big bowl of armor around their face. But without understanding the condition of a down rider’s spine it’s frighteningly easy to paralyze them by moving their body. Especially at the neck.

Obviously, the main exception is if the body is in extreme danger. But if a downed rider is not moving and otherwise apparently alive (respirating and pumping blood) let them lie and wait for the paramedics to arrive, as they will know the safest method of removing protective clothing. In fact, some helmets have break-away abilities for this exact situation.

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If you’re ever unfortunate enough to witness a bike accident, hopefully you have the wherewithal to spring into action without getting overzealous and hurting the person more. When in doubt, less is more and a little help goes a long way. Don’t try to be a doctor if you’re not one, but even just consoling a person in a moment of extreme duress could go along way to helping them fight back to lucidity.

Jalopnik Staffer from 2013 to 2020, now Editor-In-Chief at Car Bibles

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DISCUSSION

I live on a curve on a beautiful riding road in rural Connecticut, and as such I’ve been first or second responder for multiple crashes. I even have a little kit by my front door: reflective safety vest, ABC extinguisher, flashlight, one of my cordless phones in a charging station next to door, cheapo fleece blankets.

When I hear/see the crash, I’m calling 911, jumping into my slipons and safety vest and out the door with the kit. I’ll be by the person’s side within 60 seconds, and one of our fantastic, professional, dedicated Fire/Rescue/EMT Volunteers will be on site usually within 3-5 minutes of the initial 911 call.

You have to make yourself as visible as possible on scene so that your good intentions don’t turn into roadkill - stay off the road as much as possible, and don’t turn your back against the direction of traffic.

I’ll ask their name, tell them mine, reassure them that help is on the way, and ask if they have any medical conditions. The only time I even briefly considered moving the person was because of a ruptured tank, the truck he hit was still on fire, he was underneath the flatbed trailer with gas sort of streaming towards us, and my extinguisher was empty. That’s how dire of a situation it has to be to move someone without professional experience, equipment and backup.

I’m no busybody, once the last traffic marshal is in place, I’m outta there and out of their hair.

Ride safe out there, and remember that leaves are starting to come down on the road, so adjust your riding style appropriately.