First aid for an emergency on the road

Lady's reflection in rear view mirror.

Published 9 April 2021
Last updated 9 April 2021

We look at what first aid is and why you need to know it as a road user. We give basic advice on what to do in an emergency situation on the road.

What is first aid?

As the name suggests, it’s the first few things you can do to help before the emergency services arrive. It’s not a replacement for professional help, but a vital first step to reduce serious injuries and improve the patient’s chances of survival. Using the right techniques in certain situations can make a huge difference to someone who’s suffered an injury or become suddenly ill.

Why do I need to know first aid?

Well, as a driver or rider, you’re going to be spending time on the road. You’ll be part of a busy network that's mostly very safe but where, occasionally, things go wrong. Accidents happen, your passengers can become ill and, if you find yourself in such a situation, it’s better to know what to do to help than to have to guess.

Also, if you’re learning to drive or ride, or you’re working towards a vocational driving qualification, you’ll need to learn about first aid. It’s covered in the theory tests for all categories and is a Driver CPC training requirement, so you’ll need to know your stuff.

What can I do to help?

We do not have the space here to go through everything you need to know and, besides, we’re not first aid professionals. But we can give you some basic advice, and recommend that you read more about first aid or, better still, go on a training course to be fully prepared.

These are the main steps to providing first aid on the road.

1 Deal with danger

There’s a danger of further crashes and fire, so approach any vehicle that’s been involved in an accident with care. Switch off the engine(s) if you can and warn other traffic (without putting yourself in danger.) Do not let anyone smoke in the area.

2 Get help

Call the emergency services (or get someone else to do it) as soon as possible. The operator will need to know all about the situation you’re in – including, most importantly – the condition of anyone who’s injured or ill. Give as much information as you can.

3 Help those involved

  • Do not move anyone who’s been hurt – you may be putting them in further danger.
  • Do not remove a motorcyclist’s helmet, unless it’s essential.
  • Do not give casualties anything to eat or drink.
  • Make the casualty warm and comfortable and talk to them gently.

4 Provide emergency care

If someone’s unconscious, follow the DR ABC code

D – check for danger, such as approaching traffic.

R – ask them questions, gently shake their shoulders to check for a response.

A – check their airway’s clear.

B - check for breathing for up to 10 seconds.

C – if they’re not breathing, place two hands in the centre of their chest and press down hard and fast (compressions), about twice a second. Only use one hand for a small child.

(Check out the British Heart Foundation’s YouTube video ‘Staying Alive’, which shows you how to give compressions.)

If the casualty’s not breathing, you may want to give them mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.

  • Check and, if necessary, clear their mouth and airway.
  • Gently tilt back their head as far as possible.
  • Pinch their nostrils together.
  • Place your mouth over theirs. Give two breaths, each lasting two seconds. Continue with cycles of 30 chest compressions and two breaths until help arrives.

If the casualty’s unconscious, but breathing, put them on their side in the recovery position, which looks like this:

Recovery position first aid



Make sure their airway’s still open once you get the casualty into this position. Keep checking on them until the emergency services arrive.


  • Check if there’s anything in the wound (like glass.) If so, build up padding around it. If not, apply firm pressure over the wound to reduce the bleeding.
  • As soon as you can, pad the wound and bandage it (using whatever clean material you can find).
  • If a limb’s bleeding, but not broken, raise it above the level of the heart to reduce the bleeding.
  • Keep checking on the condition of the patient – are they still conscious and breathing? – until help arrives.


In first aid terms, shock is not an emotion, but a medical condition, and it can be very serious.

Symptoms include

  • Paleness of the skin
  • Clamminess of the skin
  • Fast, shallow breathing
  • Fast, weak pulse
  • Yawning or sighing
  • Confusion
  • Loss of consciousness (in extreme cases).

This is what you can do to help a person who’s suffering from shock

  • Do not give them anything to eat or drink. They may need surgery later so it’ll be better if their stomach’s empty.
  • Lay them down with their legs raised, to increase blood flow to the head.
  • Call for help. Explain that you think the person’s in shock and why (heart attack, injury etc.)
  • Loosen any tight clothing around the person’s neck, chest or waist.
  • Keep them warm, comfortable and calm.
  • Keep checking their breathing, pulse and level of response.
  • If they lose consciousness or stop breathing, be prepared to give chest compressions or mouth to mouth.


Check the casualty for shock and cool the burn with plenty of cold, clean water for at least 20 minutes. If there’s no water available, use any clean fluid that’s non-toxic. Do not try to peel off anything that’s stuck to the burn.

We hope you’re never in a situation where you have to give first aid to someone but, if you do find yourself faced with a very sick or injured person, these basics may make all the difference.

You can read more about first aid and find out where there’s a training course near you by visiting these websites

British Red Cross

St John’s Ambulance

Local First Aid Courses

Back to top