Mandatory First-Aid Measures
The more quickly and effectively the various forms of rescue and assistance are dovetailed, the better the chances of survival and recovery for road users involved in accidents. The most important basis for ensuring this is first aid provided by passers- by and/or volunteers, including by uninjured persons involved in the accident. Providing proper first aid at an early stage can help to prevent a patient’s condition from deteriorating. According to a study conducted by the University of Würzburg, the number of road traffic fatalities in Germany could be reduced by 10% if first aid were provided immediately following an accident.
Since anybody may at any time find themselves in a situation where they have to provide first aid, proper training for as many people as possible would be a major benefit. Worldwide, various approaches have been adopted to address this aspect. In some countries, first aid is taught in schools; in other countries, first aid training is a mandatory part of driver training lessons. In additions, companies of a certain size are required to offer first aid training and regular refresher courses. Even if the scope of required training varies and, in many cases, refresher training is not mandatory, such measures do at least raise awareness of the importance of first aid and, as a result, people’s inhibitions about getting involved are lowered.
When it comes to people’s obligation to provide first aid, very different approaches exist. In Argentina, Denmark, Germany, France and Serbia, for example, people are legally required to provide first aid. Anyone who fails to provide any necessary and reasonable help risks imprisonment. In Commonwealth nations, the USA and large parts of Canada with common law systems, clear guidelines often are lacking. That said, “common law” usually encompasses a “Good Samaritan” law, which stipulates a duty to offer assistance.
Just as important as the duty to help is the legal protection of those who do help. In this regard, the German system is quite rightly seen as a “best practice.” As long as a first-aider acts to the best of their knowledge and conscience, they are protected from all forms of legal repercussions. This also applies if the assistance offered proves detrimental, either unintentionally or unavoidably in the context of the assistance given. Additionally, first-aiders are insured by German statutory accident insurance against all physical injury that they cause or suffer themselves as well as against any material damage that they might cause during the course of assistance. An example from China highlights the negative consequences of the failure to legally protect first-aiders: In 2006, a first-aider was brought to trial by the woman he tried to help in a bid to make him pay for the medical treatment costs of the injuries she suffered in a fall caused by the first-aider. Despite a lack of evidence, the court ruled in favor of the patient, stating that nobody needs to help anyone else if they do not feel responsible for a person’s plight. As a result, people in China are now much less prepared to help people in peril.
Quicker rescue of passengers trapped in vehicles
In traffic accidents in particular, one of the main tasks of the fire department is to rescue passengers trapped in vehicles. However, rescue teams face myriad challenges here. Increasingly strong materials designed to enhance the safety of vehicle occupants mean that fire crews need state-of-the-art rescue equipment to provide their usual rapid assistance. When money is tight, not every fire department can adequately keep up with the pace of developments. As vehicles become ever safer, the number of accidents involving trapped victims has also fallen. But as valuable as this factor is for road safety, the consequence is that fire crews have less and less experience of rescuing people trapped in vehicles as it becomes an increasingly less routine part of the job.
Training in realistic conditions is also difficult because the vehicles available are usually old junk cars that are not equipped with the corresponding reinforcements. Furthermore, the training vehicles are generally undamaged or only slightly damaged, which can lead to relevant differences when compared to rescue operations. On top of this, recent years have seen the introduction of a whole range of new vehicle concepts featuring alternative drives and fuels, which means huge training expenditure that the often voluntary rescue crews cannot even begin to fund to the required extent. Even for professional fire departments whose range of tasks and responsibilities is becoming ever bigger and more complex, vehicle-specific issues are frequently neglected.
Investment in rescue-mission-related research and the provision of training material is therefore a key aspect of road safety work. DEKRA Accident Research is currently conducting a study into rescue methods in collaboration with the University Medical Faculty in Göttingen and Weber Rescue. The study involves investigating different rescue methods multiple times on modern cars that have undergone crash-testing with impact speeds of 85 km/h and have suffered identical damage as a result. In this way, any dificulties and positive experiences encountered can be highlighted and the different methods compared. This allows us to develop tactical decision-making aids and highlight potential for optimization. The same applies to vehicles equipped with alternative drive systems. How can fires in batteries in electric vehicles be extinguished? What are the risks? What needs to be taken into account? Here, too, DEKRA Accident Research has been involved in a series of studies looking at these issues. The US-based NFPA Fire Protection Research Foundation has conducted research in precisely this area and developed a comprehensive and free training course for rescue services covering, for example, rescue missions involving vehicles equipped with alternative drives or using alternative fuels. Ultimately, such measures are also a key contribution to improving road safety.