Building a vehicle first aid kit is different from other medical kits. When you drive somewhere in a car, you're exposing yourself to multiple dangers.
Unfortunately, paramedics continue to see life-threatening motor vehicle crashes daily. Many people are unaware they can take multiple precautions to keep themselves safe during and after an accident.
In this article, you'll learn how to set up a complete vehicle first aid kit. Also, we'll talk about a few first aid and rescue items you may not have considered stashing in your car.
Building a First Aid Kit for a Car or Truck
Before we talk about the gear, let's talk about the situations that could come your way.
- Accidents. Car accidents are common. Unfortunately, drunk driving is still a thing, and the texters and drivers aren't helping.
- Vehicle failure. Your vehicle could fail at inopportune times, exposing you and your family to extreme heat or extreme cold.
- Road trips. If you're planning a cross-country excursion, you're presented with new questions: What types of hospitals are on the way? What type of ecosystem will we drive through? Desert? Snowy mountains?
- Rescue situations. Perhaps you find another car in a ditch. Or your vehicle is caught in a flash flood.
In later sections, we will discuss several pieces of equipment to handle these problems.
Alright, now let's talk about the specific medical ailments you may need to treat while in a car.
- Environment emergencies
- Rescue situation
Let's look at each of these in more depth.
Injuries From Car Accidents and How to Prepare
When driving, you still need to worry about common medical ailments. However, moving at high speed creates another possibility: trauma.
Trauma occurs when the body is subject to extreme forces, including:
- Blunt force. Like a punch to the gut or a seat belt across your abdomen in a car accident.
- Penetrating trauma. A bullet, knife, or a brake pedal on your car impales a leg during an accident.
- Shear force. This is often what happens when you have a brain injury. The brain shifts within the skull, scraping against the bottom of the skull.
So, while creating a medical kit for your vehicle, think about different types of trauma and how you need to treat these injuries.
Preparing for Environmental Emergencies while Driving
Your car does not have the same insulation capabilities as your house. If you become trapped in a vehicle or the elements prohibit you from exiting, you need to be prepared.
Here are a few environmental dangers of the vehicle:
- Heat. If you run out of gas or your car breaks down while driving in the Summer, do you have alternative methods to keep cool?
- Cold. Every year in the north, blizzards strand unprepared drivers, threatening lives. If you were trapped in your car in the snow, could you stay warm? Even if the car ran out of gas?
Your gas tank will only last so long in an emergency. We will discuss some of the ways to prepare in the sections below.
Rescue Situations You Might Encounter in Your Vehicle
Scary situations can happen before you know it. You might think that most rescue situations require high-tech rescue equipment. The truth is, a few very small things could save your life.
Here are several rescue situations you could encounter:
- Entrapment. If your vehicle rolls and lands on the driver's door (I've seen this many times as a paramedic), how would you get out? Also, if you're hanging upside down by your seat belt, you might have difficulty unclipping.
- Water. More cars drive off bridges than you might think. Also, nearby ponds, lakes, and streams all present a possible water rescue situation. All the more reason to have a few rescue essentials in your first aid kit.
Alright, now let's talk about the components needed to prepare for one of these emergencies.
The Equipment to Include in a Vehicle First Aid Kit
If you're placing a first aid kit in your truck or car, you should consider several of the items below.
Trauma-related items for car first aid kit:
- Tourniquet. The tourniquet is a stable of a good trauma kit. A good SOF tourniquet will stop a bleed to the limb fast. If you're curious, check out this article on the difference between a tourniquet and pressure bandage.
- Compressed gauze. Compressed gauze can bandage any wound. Also, compressed gauze can pack a wound. If you want, you can buy compressed gauze with hemostatic agents. This type of gauze stops the bleed faster.
- Chest seals. If you experience a penetrating wound to the thoracic cavity (chest and upper back), you need a chest seal to prevent your lungs from collapsing. However, learning how to use a chest seal is important.
- Pressure bandages. These allow you to quickly stop a moderate to major bleed that doesn't require a tourniquet. Also, some bandages, like the Israeli bandage, are made for a one-handed application.
- Splints. A splint can go a long way toward reducing the pain and damage caused by fractures and strains. If you get a flexible splint (you can cut this one down with trauma shears - might be needed for splinting fingers) you can stabilize almost any bone.
Now, let's talk about environmental items:
- Emergency blanket. Get a good emergency blanket. In cold weather, you may only last three hours (or less if it's really cold). These are easily packable but essential for first aid. Also, you can use them for someone who has lost blood and is going into shock. If you want something more robust, you can get the two-layer blizzard blanket.
- Heat packs. If you're stuck in your car during a blizzard, heat packs and the emergency blanket will work together.
- Cold packs. Heat strokes and heat exhaustion can happen fast. Cold packs will help, but you should also carry some extra water with you whenever you're in a vehicle.
- Rain poncho. If you need to change a tire in the rain, you don't want to soak yourself to the bone. Hypothermia creeps up like an evil villain. You've got to be vigilant about fighting off the cold!
Now, let's discuss the items needed for rescue:
- Glass breaker. Having a glass breaking can get you out of a lot of tough binds during an emergency. Just make sure you know how to use it.
- Seat belt cutter. It's handy to have a specified seat belt cutter (these fit on a key chain), but you could also keep a sharp pocket knife handy.
- Fire extinguisher. Fire happens in cars. Having a small fire extinguisher is a good idea.
- Whistle. A whistle is a common item, but if you're trapped in a car, you'll become tired of yelling for help. Don't get a cheap whistle; get one that works (and is really loud) like a FOX 40. These whistles are ear-splitting.
Of course, depending on your family and your environment, there may be other items you include in your vehicle first aid kit. The usual things, like band-aids, medications, and antibiotic ointment are all good ideas.
How to Store Your Vehicle First Aid Kit
So, you've put a first aid kit together for your truck. Just throw it in the trunk and bury it under garbage, right? Wrong.
Where you place your vehicle first aid kit is important.
Here are some things to consider:
- Secure it. Wherever you place your car first aid kit, you want it to be there when you need it. In the event of an accident, stuff flies everywhere. Use straps and velcro to secure your first aid kit. Velcro attached to your bags allows you to rip away the kit when you need it.
- Within arms reach. It's not uncommon for a driver or passenger to become pinned by the dashboard during an accident. For this reason, I recommend having your kit within arms reach. If your bag is small enough, attaching it to the visor might work - or you could strap it to the back of a headrest.
- Multiple. Instead of having one large first aid kit in your trunk (a good idea if you need to help others but won't help you much in an accident), have multiple small kits around the inside of your vehicle—one on the headrest, one in the glove box, and a large pack in the trunk.
We could talk about first aid kit theory for days. The main thing is this: think about the emergencies you might encounter and how you should best set up your vehicle medical kit to respond.
Final Words on How to Build a First Aid Kit for Your Car
After having a good first aid kit in your home, placing a kit in your car might be the most important place.
Don't let the steps in this article intimidate you. If all you have is band-aids, at least place them in your car (it will make your kids happy when they cut their fingers). And, if you can't afford a bunch of medical gear, take some time to learn improvised first aid methods. These will be lifesaving.
However, saving up for first aid gear is a smart use of your money. Most of the gear will last you for many, many years. The great thing about buying medical gear? You don't feel bad if you never use it.
Note: Get hands-on training! Good first aid skills are not easy to learn - it takes time and dedication.