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The Crash Scene

Safety Corner logoIf you frequently participate in group rides, sooner or later, you’re bound to come upon the scene of a bike crash. Have you stopped to think, “What would I do at a crash scene?” If not, this may be a good time to mull it over. Here are a few thoughts on the subject.

Don’t turn one crash into two. Crash scenes can be very distracting, and it’s easy to focus on the carnage while losing track of other hazards.

Stop only if your help is needed. If the scene is already well attended to, ride by and thank your lucky stars that it wasn’t your turn to be called into action. Unless you’re a doctor or have extensive first-aid training, it’s unlikely that you’ll be of further help, but you will be adding to the confusion and generally increasing the chance that one crash will become two. If in doubt, ask if additional help is needed.

Think. OK, you’ve stopped at the scene. There’s no way to anticipate every possible scenario, but one thing is for sure—you will have a flood of thoughts and emotions going through your head. Do whatever it takes, but stay calm and keep thinking straight. Rather than immediately running for the victim or pulling out the cell phone, stop and take it all in. Assess the overall situation (considering both the victim and bystanders), and note what needs attention first.

Leverage your resources. If this is a group ride, the good news is that there will generally be enough people around to do what needs to be done. Even if you’re the first to arrive, others (motorists and cyclists alike) won’t be far behind. One or two people will need to take charge of the situation. If someone else isn’t doing this already, you may want to step up. Assign specific tasks to specific individuals. If there are enough people such that your only task is to direct others, all the better.

Don’t turn one crash into two. Heard this one before? Get well off the road and direct others to do the same. Assign others to alert/direct traffic from both directions. Unless you can use additional help, discourage traffic (motorists and cyclists alike) from stopping.

Attend to the victim. The extent to which you can provide effective first aid depends on the nature of the injuries, your first-aid skills, the first-aid equipment available, and whether others are available to assist. Only you can assess the situation, but even if you have no formal training, you can often be of help to the victim. Many times, common sense is your best guide—don’t forget to use it. If you have extra clothing, a first-aid kit and/or latex gloves, be sure that they are close at hand. Try not to startle the victim as you approach. Introduce yourself, and ask the victim’s name. This is not a frivolity. You’ll put the victim at ease and learn his/her state of consciousness. If the victim is conscious, ask permission before providing first aid. Again, this is not a frivolity. He/she may say “no”. It’s the conscious victim’s choice—not yours. If the victim is unconscious or otherwise unable to respond, you can generally assume consent. It may be tempting to move the victim, but try this only if the victim’s position poses a serious safety threat that cannot be otherwise mitigated. If the victim has a neck or spinal-cord injury (easy to imagine in a bike crash), moving him/her could cause paralysis or death.

Get help. You already know to dial 911, and someone will generally have a cell phone, or a phone will be near at hand. In the rare case that someone needs to leave the scene to seek help, first take a moment to gather relevant information (write it down), such as the victim’s name (if he/she can talk or has ID), state of consciousness, the nature/severity of the injuries, and the location of the crash scene (address, cross street, etc.)

Follow up. It is, of course, good form to notify the emergency contact for the victim. Please also report any information you have about injuries incurred on CRW rides to the CRW Safety Coordinator (contact information is at We are actually trying to keep track.

Carry latex gloves. It would be a bummer to have to decide between letting someone bleed to death and potentially exposing oneself to dangerous blood borne pathogens. Besides, they keep your hands clean when fixing flats. I know what you’re thinking, “Pity the poor sucker who gets first aid from me after I’ve fixed a flat”. Well, that bike grime is probably safer for the victim than what’s on your bare hands. And, of course, using gloves is way safer for you. Pack your gloves in a suitable container—they will otherwise puncture or tear in your bike bag. An old-fashioned film canister works well.

Carry pen and paper. To jot down the victim’s info and the crash location. Cue sheets and maps double as notepaper, but there are few good substitutes for a pen or pencil.

Carry ID, your health-insurance card, and emergency contact information. The victim could be you.

Get first-aid training. Of course, no article can substitute for proper first-aid training. If you’re so inclined, check out the American Red Cross at or

Remember—safety is about choices. What choices will you make?

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