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Road traffic accidents

If you are involved in a car accident, there are some steps you are legally required to take and others that will enable you to make the situation as safe as possible as quickly as possible. If you are likely to be involved in an insurance claim, you will also need to gather some key information about the circumstances of the accident

Immediate action following an accident

When an accident occurs, there are a few simple steps you should take to comply with the law and make it easier to deal with any claim. If you don’t follow them it could prejudice you when you make an insurance claim – particularly if it is a ‘no-fault’ claim.

1. You are legally required to stop after a road traffic accident, even if no other vehicle was involved, if:

  • anyone (other than you) is injured
  • another vehicle or any other property is damaged
  • an animal on the road or in another car is injured (but not an animal in your own vehicle)
  • items such as a street lamp, bollard, road sign or any other normal street ‘furniture’ are damaged

2. You should do what you can to ensure that anyone who has been injured gets medical treatment, and that the accident site is made safe (eg warning other motorists, making sure that people are moved away - if their medical condition allows - from any hazardous substances such as leaking fuel). If necessary, dial 999.

3. You must stay with your vehicle long enough to provide your name and address, the name and address of the vehicle’s owner (if different) and the registration number to anyone involved in the accident. This could be an injured person, the owner of property damaged by, or an animal injured in, the accident, a police officer or a witness to the accident.

4. If anyone has been injured, you must produce your insurance certificate. If you cannot do so at the time, you must notify the police (in person rather than by phone, and within 24 hours) and take the certificate to the police station (within seven days).
Even if no one has been injured, you may need to provide your insurance details to anyone who wants to make a claim against you for damage to property.

5. You must report the accident to the police if you cannot exchange details with the other party involved, and/or provide your insurance certificate, at the time of the accident. You should also report the accident if you believe an offence has been committed. You must do this as soon as possible, within 24 hours after the accident. However, if you can produce your insurance at the time, and you have also given all the information required, there is no need to involve the police.
Ask any other drivers involved for their details, and note the make, model and colour of their vehicles as well as the registration numbers.

6. Make sure that you make your own notes of what happened. If you can, take photographs that show what happened too – for example, showing the road layout, the position and angle of your vehicle and any other vehicles involved, where any pedestrians or animals were when they were injured, any area of poor visibility, or any hazards, that may have contributed to the accident, etc. If you cannot do that, try to sketch out a rough map showing these things.

7. Importantly, make sure you have the names and contact details of any witnesses. If possible, also make a note and take photos of where they were when the accident occurred. Ask them (including passengers in your own vehicle) to make a written record of what they saw happen.

8. Note down any subsequent medical treatment or expenses you incur as a result of the accident.

9. Inform your insurance company as soon as possible. If you don’t, it could invalidate your insurance cover, even if the accident wasn’t your fault.

Who is at fault

Responsibility for an accident depends on the particular circumstances.

  • Even if you are at fault, you should not admit liability for the accident or make any offer to pay. Doing so will weaken your position in any subsequent dispute and is likely to be prohibited by the terms of your insurance policy.
  • In general, you can make a claim against anyone who causes an accident – including learner drivers, cyclists and emergency services vehicles.
  • If someone drives into the back of your vehicle, they are usually at fault, even if you braked sharply, because they should have kept a safe braking distance from the back of your car.
  • Whoever is responsible for a stationary object (eg road works or a parked car) may be responsible if it was not sufficiently visible, or unsafely or illegally positioned.
  • If an accident is caused by an unsafe road surface, whoever is responsible for the road surface (eg the local council, or someone who spilt oil and failed to deal with it) may be responsible for the accident.
  • Where an accident is caused by a stationary object or road surface, a claim is more likely to succeed if there have been other problems or accidents there as well.
  • Blame may be shared by several different parties (including yourself), with each liable for a percentage of any claim.

Making a claim

Depending on the circumstances, you may want to make a claim through your insurance company or using your own solicitor.

Broadly speaking, a claim for personal injury or damage to property aims to put you in the same position as if the accident had not happened. A claim may include:

  • the cost of repairs (or the vehicle’s value if it is written off)
  • any other damage to property
  • your policy excess (if you have the vehicle repaired under your own insurance)
  • other related costs, such as hiring a car while yours is repaired
  • medical expenses, including the cost of continuing care and any adaptations needed to take account of a continuing disability
  • loss of earnings or business profits

If you have fully comprehensive insurance, it may be easiest to allow your insurance company to handle any claim for damage to property. However, you may lose your no-claims bonus if the insurance company cannot recover its costs from the other party’s insurer.

You can pursue a claim through the courts. You have to meet your own legal costs for claims in the small claims court, but may be able to recover some costs in larger disputes using the fast track or multi-track.

If the other driver is uninsured or refuses to provide insurance details, you (or your solicitor) can make a claim through the Motor Insurers' Bureau (MIB). MIB is the official body set up to compensate people who have a court judgement against an uninsured motorist, or who have been the victims of unidentified "hit and run" motorists, who would not otherwise receive compensation. You can trace the registered owner through the DVLA, and must report the incident to the police (as the other driver is committing an offence).

Claims for personal injury can be complex and involve significant sums. Take independent legal advice.

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