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What to do if you have a car accident

Mar 26, 2021

The immediate aftermath of a road collision can feel chaotic. The first priority is always safety, but there are also actions you have to take by law and practicalities to deal with.

Understanding what your obligations are in advance will make it easier to cope with an accident if you are unlucky enough to have one. If you have insurance with telematics this can provide invaluable evidence in proving your account of events.

Road collisions in the UK

According to government statistics, in 2019 there were 1,752 reported road deaths in Britain, 25,945 serious injuries and 153,158 casualties of all severities. Thankfully, road deaths are on a long-term downward trend; in 1979 more than three times as many people (6,352) died on the road.

Despite the numbers reducing, the chances are that you will be involved in or witness a road traffic collision in your driving life. On UK roads, someone is killed or seriously injured every 20 minutes and around five people are killed each day.

Road collisions can affect other road users, as well as car drivers and their passengers. People travelling in cars accounted for 42% of road fatalities in 2019, 27% of those killed were pedestrians, 19% were on motorcycles and 6% were cyclists.

Some types of travel involve a much higher casualty rate per mile travelled. People in these groups are known as vulnerable road users; this includes motorcyclists, pedal cyclists and pedestrians.

Car drivers have a fatality rate of 1.6 per billion passenger miles. For pedestrians the figure is 35.4, for cyclists it’s 29.0 and for motorcyclists it’s a shocking 104.6.

On UK roads, someone is killed or seriously injured every 20 minutes and around five people are killed each day.

A car hitting the back of a car in-front
What should you do when you’re in a road traffic accident?

Being in a road accident can be alarming, even if it’s a minor scrape. Here’s a guide to what steps you should take after a collision.

  • Move to a safe place

The first thing to do after a collision is to pull over into a safe place if possible.

You may need to turn on your hazard lights and put out a warning triangle on the road. Obviously, pulling over may not always be possible, depending on the nature of the road.

Turn off the ignition of any damaged cars and apply the handbrake where possible.

Ensure no one smokes near the vehicle and call emergency services immediately if you see damaged power lines, spilt fuel or believe a vehicle to be carrying hazardous substances.

  • Stay at the scene

Do not leave the scene of the incident, as this could be a criminal offence in itself.

Even if you were not at fault in the collision or it appears to be a minor bump, leaving the scene without exchanging details is a criminal offence which could potentially be punished by a large fine, disqualification or even imprisonment.

If you have emergency provisions in your vehicle, such as a blanket, high-vis clothing, or a torch, these might be useful if you have to wait by your car for some time as you wait for the emergency services to arrive.

  • Stay calm

It’s likely that you will have a big burst of adrenaline after a car collision. You might feel panicky, anxious or upset. Once you’re sure you are safe, take a few seconds to collect your thoughts and take some deep breaths.

There is no need to discuss the cause of the collision with other parties involved at this point, this can be left to the insurers and/or the police. Something you say in the heat of the moment could be taken as an admission of liability.

It might be that you wish you have acted differently, or feel you were partly or wholly at fault; wait until you have had a chance to think things through before making any admission.

Anger is an understandable response to being in a road collision, especially if you believe another driver was behaving carelessly or recklessly.

However, it’s important to avoid being in a confrontation with other drivers, as this will not resolve anything. Leave it to the police or insurers to decide who is to blame and just concentrate on dealing with the immediate situation.

Once you’re sure you are safe, take a few seconds to collect your thoughts and take some deep breaths.

A man behind the wheel of a car with his hands on his head after a collision
  • Check for casualties

Check yourself and your passengers for injuries. If you know or suspect that someone is injured, call 112 or 999 straight away.

If possible, do not move the injured person and touch them carefully – always assume that they have a spinal or neck injury. Keep the injured person warm and comfortable where possible and give reassurance.

Stay with the injured person until emergency services arrive, and do not move the casualty unless there is a serious threat of danger. Do not give an injured person food or drink, or remove a motorcyclist’s helmet unless absolutely necessary.

You should also look around the surrounding area to ensure you find all casualties, for example someone thrown from a vehicle or an injured pedestrian.

If someone is trapped in a vehicle, leave it for the fire service to help them. Visit the St John’s Ambulance website for more advice about managing the scene of a traffic accident and performing first aid.

  • Exchange information

You should take the details of other drivers involved in the collision as well as the details of any witnesses on the scene.

See below for more information on what information you should collect, and what the law requires you to do.

  • Notify the police

The law requires you to notify the police if a collision causes injury, damage to property or a driver has failed to stop or exchange details with other drivers.

If emergency services are involved, police should be notified immediately. Other incidents must be reported to police within 24 hours.

Failure to report a collision where contact details have not been exchanged is a criminal offence.

It’s not unusual for drivers to deal with minor scrapes between themselves, rather than involving the police or insurance companies – for example, if a wing mirror is knocked off in a car park.

You should always call the police if a car is seriously damaged or someone is hurt. You may also need police assistance if one of the vehicles involved is left in a dangerous position, for example around a blind corner.

  • Gather information

Once you have dealt with immediate issues such as whether anyone is injured or whether you need to call the emergency services, you can start gathering information about the incident.

This could help to support your case if other parties claim you were at fault. If there are witnesses to the incident, ask for their names and contact details.

Take photographs of the scene and damage to any vehicles or property. It is also advisable to record your recollection of events as soon as possible, because memories fade fast.

You might jot these down or use a voice recording app on your phone to set down everything you can remember. Include details such as the time, weather conditions, what damage was caused, vehicle registration plates makes and models, and your location.

These details will also help your insurer to process your claim smoothly. If you have telematics insurance, this should also record key data.

Take photographs of the scene and damage to any vehicles or property. It is also advisable to record your recollection of events as soon as possible, because memories fade fast.

The smashed headlight of vehicle after a crash
What information should you collect?

By law, drivers are required to provide their details to other parties in a crash if someone is injured or property is damaged.

You should exchange details with everyone involved in the incident, even if there was no impact to their vehicle – for example, if you swerved to avoid a vehicle and hit a third car.

You should take each driver’s vehicle registration number and the driver’s name and address, as well as the name and address of the vehicle owner if this is different.

If someone is injured in a collision, they are entitled to ask to see another driver’s certificate of insurance. This must be supplied within seven days.

It is also advisable to take down details of any police officers who attend the scene, as well as details of witnesses and how many passengers were in other vehicles involved in the incident.

What happens to your car?

Most breakdown policies are exactly that – they provide assistance if your car breaks down, but you might not be eligible for help if your car is damaged as a result of a road accident.

If your vehicle is capable of being driven and your breakdown cover provider is willing to attend, you could have the vehicle repaired at the side of the road so you can continue your journey.

Always ask the police for permission before having your vehicle repaired, and be sure you are in a fit state to drive.

If your vehicle is removed by the police, or they ask that you use a particular recovery company to tow it away, this is likely to come at a cost. Your insurance company might reimburse you this cost.

Notifying your insurance provider

You should tell your insurer that you have been involved in a collision without delay.

Your insurance policy is likely to have a set period for how long you have to do this, for example within 48 hours of the incident. If you do not notify your insurer within the relevant period, you could invalidate your policy.

Tell your insurer about being involved in an accident, even if you do not actually want to make a claim.

Your insurer will want to be given as much detail about the incident as possible, including a police reference number, details of other drivers and their vehicles, witnesses and any notes or photos you may have taken. They may also want to have your vehicle examined to check for damage.

If you are in a collision with an uninsured driver, you should notify the police and check your insurance to see if it offers you any protection.

A policy that provides third party cover or uninsured driver protection should cover the claim. If your policy does not provide cover, you may be able to claim compensation from the Motor Insurers Bureau (MIB).

If you are in a collision with an uninsured driver, you should notify the police and check your insurance to see if it offers you any protection.

A woman on the phone looking at her crashed car
Car accidents and fraud

Unfortunately, fraud is sometimes a feature of insurance claims following a car accident.

This might take the form of an induced accident – where a criminal brakes suddenly or drives erratically, causing other motorists to collide with them in a way that makes the incident look like the innocent party’s fault.

Opportunists also sometimes exploit car accidents to see if they can maximise any insurance pay out they will receive.

They may claim to have injuries they do not, overstate the damage to their vehicle or misrepresent the number of passengers in the car with them at the time.

This type of crime shows why it is so important to gather information at the scene of a collision that can challenge any misrepresentation of the event.

Photos, notes or witness testimony confirming the true details of the crash can help to identify fraudsters and prevent them from making any profit from an incident – it could even lead to them being brought to justice.

How black box insurance can help you in the event of an accident

Black box insurance uses a telematics device to monitor your driving performance.

The record of your driving is used to accurately calculate premiums for your car insurance, based on key risk metrics such as your rate of acceleration and braking, whether you steer sharply and how often you drive late at night.

The information recorded by a black box device can also be invaluable if you are in a road accident. Often, drivers give conflicting accounts of how a collision occurred, making it hard to establish who was at fault.

A black box insurance device will record information such as the time of the incident, your speed, the impact force and where and when the incident took place.

This means any claims resulting from the incident can be settled swiftly and smoothly. Why not give insurance with a black box a try? Contact Smartdriverclub for a quote today.