Drive to arrive

Chris Smith

‘Any available traffic unit for a likely to prove RTC?’ came the message over the radio.

Likely to prove means someone is seriously hurt, and could lose their life in a road traffic collision (RTC).

I activate my blue lights and sirens and make my way to the scene which could be anywhere in Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, or Hertfordshire.

What is involved? Who is hurt? Is it just one injury or are there more? What other units are available to support? Just a few of the many things that flash through my mind.

Having fought my way through the traffic I arrive at scene and realise I am first here.

People are calling for my help, however my first priority must be to make a safe environment, after all, if I get wiped out by a car, I’m no help to anyone.

I close the road and approach the crashed vehicles. I do a quick recce on the casualties.

If they are screaming and crying out, at least I know they are alive, so I prioritise the silent patients.

Looking into the crushed, almost destroyed vehicle, I see blood everywhere.

The injuries to the driver are horrific. They are visibly dead, so I move on to the next person – a passenger who isn’t breathing.

I pull him from the car, as it’s filling with smoke, and start mouth to mouth and chest compressions.

The ambulance service arrives and takes over the care of the casualties.

My responsibility now changes. I need to investigate how this collision occurred and the impact this will have not only on the people in the vehicles but their nearest and dearest.

I need to deploy a family liaison officer, I need to secure and preserve evidence (calling out the collision investigation unit to help facilitate this), establish witnesses, set up full road closures and diversions, as well as thinking about vehicle examinations to identify any mechanical defects.

I also need to look at seizing items such things as mobile phones to establish if they were a contributory factor.

A particularly difficult job I dealt with was on a motorway.

My crewmate and I were sent to an RTC where a number of vehicles were involved. We were first on scene and on our arrival one of the vehicles was on fire. The flames were 40-50 foot high on our arrival.

There were two people in the first vehicle. They were dead.

The next vehicle in the line was very badly damaged with the driver seriously injured.

A lorry had jack-knifed and the driver was unconscious on the carriageway. He had been thrown through the windscreen in the impact.

The last driver was fortunately only suffering minor injuries.

What do you do first?

On average five people are killed on the road each and every day in the UK.

So drive to arrive, leave your phone alone, watch your speed and never ever drink or use drugs and drive.

I don’t want to have to pull you from the wreckage of your vehicle.

I don’t want to have to give you mouth to mouth at the side of the road.

I don’t want to have to tell your loved ones that you’re not coming home.

That’s why we give this advice, and that’s why we try to catch those people who put their own and other people’s lives in danger on the road.

Chris Smith

Sergeant Chris Smith has been a police officer for more than 26 years and has spent most of his time working in roads policing. He thinks his job is the best in the force, and is also part of the roads policing motorcycle team.

He is passionate about enforcing road traffic law in an attempt to reduce the number of accidents and improve safety.


10 thoughts on “Drive to arrive

  1. Tuttiefrutti 17 July, 2015 / 2:31 pm

    you, my good sir, are the best kind of person and I thank you for your selflessness


  2. Sheena Hobday 17 July, 2015 / 5:02 pm

    I think it is great that this blog explains how are policemen carry out their duties. Well done.


  3. Colin Ring 17 July, 2015 / 6:31 pm

    I always the work of Police Officers, as both my brothers were Poice Officers, one a traffick Officer. Well done, and thanks for trying to keep us all safe.


  4. Richard Willis 17 July, 2015 / 10:56 pm

    Being first-on-scene is one of the loneliest feelings that one can experience. I was in St John Ambulance for 33 years, 20+ as ambulance crew, and a Community First Responder for five after that. I have been FOS at several RTCs over the years. The very first time, after years of training, that I had to resuscitate a warm casualty myself and another helper, who just happened to be a consultant anaesthetist, continued to carry on, even though the patient was obviously deceased, just for the sake of his very agitated friends. The man’s chest had a tyre track across it and I doubt he had two complete ribs!


  5. Andrew Southard 18 July, 2015 / 1:13 am

    I’m sure it never becomes “just a job”, but I know enough traffic cops and paramedics to know they have a support network to see them through the trauma of this work. Many years ago I was first at the scene of an RTC between a bike and a car opposite Roxtan Garden Centre. My wife and I were both first aid instructors, but this was something new. The bike had broadsided and rolled the car (80 MPH?). I could hear the pained cries for help from the car, but the bike rider was clearly more in need. As I got to him, he raised his head slightly and Iooked at me. Then his helmet slowly fillet with blood and I watched the lights go out. My wife was on the phone to the emergency services, they advised ” what the heck” to remove his helmet and attempt CPR. She said this and I went to try, but the 20m diameter of onlookers gasped and shouted “NO!” It was enough, I bottled it – I knew he was fead anyway (???). I moved on to the car casualty and tended for the agonising 10 minutes before the ambulance arrived, assisted by a nurse who arrived and broke the invisible cordon.

    Beds police said they would be in touch to offer councilling. 10 years on, still waiting. I was lucky, I know many professionals in the field who helped me through the pain and guilt of not saving the bikers life. But did Beds police know this? Nope.

    My point? If a member of the public attempts what you guy do every day, it is not the same. Check they are OK afterwards. When I was teaching first aid, the thing we would emphasise was “it doesn’t matter if you make a mistake, try anyway, if they are dead already you can’t hurt them more” (for a non breathing casualty), but my experience was the exact reason why people don’t stand up and be counted.

    Anyway, I got my councilling from Herts traffic, and I needed it. Take what you will from this.


    • bedspolice 23 July, 2015 / 3:17 pm

      Thanks for your comment Andrew. We are always very grateful for the help and support of the public in crucial incidents such as road traffic incidents, you really do play a big part in giving the immediate care needed. We are pleased you received the counselling support after your difficult experience from Hertfordshire Police, just to let you know that Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire are now a combined unit.


  6. Noémie Neighbour 18 July, 2015 / 12:17 pm

    Thank you for this article. I was involved in a head on collision in 2006 and it happened so terrifyingly quickly that my brain doesn’t actually remember the few seconds before and after. I’m just so glad I was 100% focused on the road, as I know deep down that there is nothing I could have done differently.
    I was taken to hospital with a broken knee (from the impact) and bruises from the seat belt. I found out the next day that the passenger in the other car had died and the driver had serious injuries. The woman who died was just a year older than me – 27. I was in shock and feeling guilty for a long time after that, even though there was nothing I could have done. The inquest found that their tyres were under inflated, which caused their car to swerve onto my side of the road.
    Everything you describe is spot on – the screaming, the shattered glass and metal, having to wait to be taken out of your cage that was once your car. The not knowing for months why it happened and not being sure it wasn’t your fault (I didn’t even know if I had tried to brake, until the police officer at the inquest 5 months later said I had, which was a huge relief. 5 months of feeling guilty that I should have done something, that I should have left the house just five seconds later…). It happened nine years ago but it’s like yesterday and it will live with me for the rest if my life.


  7. Irene Craig 20 July, 2015 / 4:03 pm

    Thank you for all you guys do. I know someone who was involved in a nasty accident on M1 not an easy think to attend too but thank you again.


  8. lee 19 September, 2015 / 3:41 pm

    I’m a lorry driver and i get to see alot of things on the motorways people using there phone eating drinking getting to close to person in front of them, road rage I think is the most I see how people get so angry and do stupid things very sad when u see accidents on the road u just hope that no one has been seriously injured I don’t no how the police do it I think it takes a very special person for the job so keep u the good work and thank you for looking after us on the roads 😉


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