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What to do after a car accident

Martynn's Tips graphic

Martynn Randall is technical editor at Haynes and has been with us for approaching 30 years. He's written more than 60 Haynes publications and has owned more than 85 cars and 60 motorbikes... so far!

BANG! The scream of rending metal, the wail of tyres being flat-spotted on rough asphalt, and a tinkly top-note of shattering glass. Then stillness, and a scene mottled by an ethereal wisp of steam as your car’s lifeblood seeps onto the road surface. Ouch.

Accidents happen. Nothing you can do about it, because it’s part of the human condition to be fallible. So, even if you’re driving along perfectly correctly, someone else might not be, and quite often an unplanned vehicle-interface situation is the result. Even if no one is injured, it’s an emotional time, but there are some things that you absolutely must do following such an incident, to keep yourself on the right side of the law and the insurance companies.

Car crash

The first five minutes

Even if your car is still driveable, it is an offence to leave the scene of an accident, so stop the car, turn on the hazard warning lights, and switch off the engine. Then, if you have anyone else in the car, check to make sure they’re uninjured. If they are, call an ambulance right away.

At this point, you can get out of your car and survey the scene, and check to see if any other party involved is uninjured. Stay calm. If necessary, stop and take a few deep breaths, then get everyone out of the vehicles and to a place of safety.

Do not apologise or admit any kind of blame until the circumstances of the accident have been fully established.

Call the police graphic

Are you obliged to call the police?

There are a few instances in which you must call the police. The first is if the road is blocked, or if there’s damage to signage in the area, or even if the incident has caused damage to a tree, rendering it unstable. And if someone has been injured in the incident, then you must call the police.

If you suspect the other party involved in the incident is under the influence of drink or drugs, then a call to the police is also necessary. And if the other driver tries to flee the scene, then you should dial 999.

Sharing details at car crash

What to share with the other driver(s)

You’ll need to exchange details with the other party. The details you require are:

  1. Their name
  2. Their address
  3. Their contact details
  4. Their insurance policy details
  5. Their driving licence number
  6. Who the other vehicle’s registered keeper is

It’s also a good idea to take down the details of any passengers in the other vehicle, plus those of any witnesses.

Record a crash scene

Record the scene of the accident

The rise of the smartphone has made this bit easier, because you need to record the scene. In the past, this would have meant making sketches and taking notes, but you can now take pictures and video of the scene (making sure you remain safe while doing so).

However, you should also write down the date and time of the accident, the direction in which each vehicles was travelling, and take note of the prevailing weather and road conditions.

Take pictures of all the damage caused to each vehicle, and write down all of the damage you can see (there may be further structural damage that’s hidden by bent panels).

If you’ve had a crash all on your own, but have damaged someone’s property or vehicle, then you should leave a note. Do NOT leave the scene until you’ve done so, because you’ll end up in court if you’ve been caught on a CCTV camera.

Call insurance company

Call your insurance company

If you can, call your insurer while you’re at the scene. However, if this is not possible, you must call and let the insurance company know within 24 hours.

This applies even if you don’t intend to make a claim, because you’ll want to get your side of the story on record before the other driver has a chance to.