If you are involved in a car accident, it’s easy to panic or get flustered and do the wrong thing. So first, take a moment to calm down and then take it step by step.
Your priorities are making sure no-one is injured, everyone stays safe and that no laws are broken – you can worry about whose fault it was later!
Leaving the scene of an accident involving another person is an offence. You are required to exchange details with any other driver involved who has suffered damage, and failure to do so can lead to prosecution.
You are also required to report any damage you’ve caused to signs or other roadside objects to the police, if not immediately, then in person, within 24 hours.
This includes harm to animals (horses, cattle, asses, mules, sheep, pigs, goats or dogs in the UK) or other people or their property.
This is just a basic safety precaution. It reduces the risk of fire, or the car moving of its own accord and causing further damage or injury. The hazards alert other drivers and are especially effective if your accident takes place after dark.
Are you OK? Are any passengers in the car OK? If it’s safe to get out of the car, find out whether any other people are hurt, including pedestrians, the occupants of any other vehicle involved or anyone else caught up in the accident.
Shock does funny things to people, and often they think they’re OK when they’re not. If anybody is hurt, then you need to call an ambulance before you do anything else.
If someone has been injured, if damaged vehicles are blocking the road or if you suspect an offence has been committed, you should call the police.
You may suspect another driver has been drinking, or was using a mobile phone in the moments leading up to the accident, for example, or you think you may the victim of a crash for cash scam. You also should call the police immediately if the other driver simply leaves the scene without offering their details.
Only if it’s necessary to avoid causing an obstruction, it’s safe to do so, and no-one is injured. Otherwise, if the police are on their way or someone has been hurt, don’t move anything because the police will need to carry out an investigation. Concentrate instead on protecting the scene and any injured people until help arrives.
If no one is hurt and the damage is relatively minor, you can simply swap details with the other driver. You may be wary of approaching other drivers after an accident, but you can deal with this by staying calm and businesslike and keeping them occupied with the need to make sure everyone stays safe and the necessary information is swapped.
This includes name, address, phone number, insurance details, registration numbers (in case the other driver supplies incorrect or incomplete information). If there are any witnesses, try to get their details too.
Do not admit liability, even if you think the accident was your fault, and do not try to press the other driver into admitting liability. In the confusion following an accident, it’s often difficult to organise your thoughts and recollections clearly.
By apologising without thinking you may jeopardise your claim later on, and even if you do initially think the accident was your fault, it may turn out later on that the other driver was going too fast, driving without due care and attention, drunk or banned from driving.
Let the insurers and the police, if they’re involved, work out who was at fault – it’s what they’re trained for.
If your vehicle and others have been damaged it’s likely you’ll need to make an insurance claim, and you need to gather as much evidence as you can right there and then to support any claims you make later on.
Do this as soon as possible after the accident, and be very wary if another driver is anxious to sort out any damage informally without involving the insurance companies. It may mean they’re not actually insured and it can cause complications later if the other driver changes their story.
These can include taxi fares, rental car charges, absence from work or any other expense you feel has been incurred as a result of the accident in case these are required later for your insurance claim.
Accidents are horrible, but if you stay calm, think clearly and do the right things in the right order, you can at least minimise some of the stress, anxiety and uncertainty that comes with them.