Bumper Bash or Smash? Here’s what to do if you are in a motor accident

Article written by:  Yaacov Steinhauer from www.startmycar.co.za

Last week, one of my colleagues at Start My Car was involved in a minor collision on her way to work. Thankfully, no one was hurt and the damage to her vehicle was minor. The incident reminded me that road accidents can happen in an instant and are a traumatic experience which often leave the driver feeling shaken, possibly injured and unable to think clearly. For those reasons, I thought I would compile an article on what to do if you are ever involved in a road accident. That way, should you ever find yourself in an accident, it will be easier to respond correctly.

The following information has been taken from Arrive Alive and the AA. Additional recommended reading on the legal implications of an accident can be found on the DSC Attorneys website.

1. Stopping Your Vehicle And Stay At The Scene

If you are in an accident:

  • Immediately stop your vehicle; Switch on you hazards to warn other drivers and climb out your vehicle if it is safe to do so.
  • Ascertain the nature and extent of any injury sustained by any person;
  • If a person is injured, render whatever assistance that you are capable of;
  • If you know nothing about first aid, don’t do anything that might aggravate an injury.
  • Rendering assistance includes ensuring that qualified help – such as an ambulance or a rescue unit – is summoned.
  • Unless you are obliged to go for help, you should remain at the scene until a police officer permits you to leave.
  • Before moving any cars involved in an accident, for example one’s that are obstructing traffic flow, make sure you document their position on the road first, either by photographing the scene or marking the road with chalk or spray paint (if on-hand). 

A driver who fails to stop after an accident when required to do so by law is liable to be prosecuted. Many people make the mistake of assuming it’s okay not to stop after an accident that isn’t serious. Failing to pull over counts as a “hit and run” and is a criminal offence, even if nobody is killed or seriously injured in the accident. 

2. Call Emergency Services

Immediately after pulling over, assess the situation and call emergency services. Give your name, number, location and details of the accident, including the number of people injured, if any.

It’s a good idea to have these emergency numbers stored on your cell phone:

  • 10177 if an ambulance is required
  • 10111 if police response is required
  • on a cell phone, 112 for any emergency. Calling 112 from a cell phone will put you through to a call centre, starting with an automated menu. The centre categorises emergency calls and routes them to appropriate responders.

By law, you must call the police to the scene of a crash if anyone has been seriously injured or killed. You should also call the police if you suspect any of the drivers involved in the accident are under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

3. Exchanging Information

Record the information of everyone involved in the road accident, including personal details, vehicle registration numbers, tow-truck information and insurance details. Take note of all road names, landmarks, intersections and robots, as you will have to draw a sketch and description of the accident on your police report, and for insurance purposes.

After a road accident, it’s legally required that you provide your information to anyone who has reasonable grounds to request it. This includes other drivers involved in the crash and law enforcement officers. If a police officer is present, you’ll be required to show your license if you were driving.

Likewise, get the following information from the other party:

  • Ensure that you get the following information from the other party:
  • Full names of the driver (first and middle names and initials and surnames)
  • ID number
  • Car registration number
  • Address
  • Cellphone number and other telephone contact details (work and home)
  • Insurance company details
  • Make, model and colour of the other vehicle
  • Date and time of the crash
  • Details of any eyewitnesses.

In the event where the driver is not the registered owner of the vehicle, ensure you get the names and contact details of the owner too.

4. Collecting Evidence

Stan Bezuidenhout from IBF Investigations International  provided a short checklist for what you should photograph with your cell phone, immediately after an accident:

  • The positions of vehicles, from far enough away to show how and where they came to rest, relative to the roadway and any substantial features in the immediate area.
  • The general scene, including all vehicles and elements if possible, from all available elevated positions, structures or higher vehicles, preferably showing the whole scene.
  • The 4 sides and 4 corners of each vehicle and/or trailer, individually, from far enough away to show the whole side or the two sides forming a corner.
  • The damages to each vehicle or trailer, from at least three angles and a higher angle, from far enough to show the vehicle clearly and from close enough to show the damages properly, if possible.
  • The license disks and/or licence plates, signage, branding and the make and model of each vehicle and all trailers involved.
  • The vehicle/s of attending services (law enforcement unit/s, ambulances and/or fire services, towing and recovery units) and any other services and private vehicles present.
  • Any road surface evidence, like scratch marks, gouges, deposits and fluid spills, tyre marks, debris or any other relevant visible evidence from multiple sides – at the beginning, end and along the length – and in relation to the scene as a whole.
  • Any obstructions, road closures, road works, road markings, signs, mile markers, unique features or traffic or pedestrians, at the scene – from multiple angles.
  • Driving licenses, ID Documents, Passports or other identification or business cards of all involved drivers, passengers, witnesses or involved parties, as far as possible.
  • Contamination of evidence like vehicles being opened by Jaws of Life moved or lifted to free entrapped occupant’s, photograph this happening – but only if possible and from far enough away not to show faces of victims.
  • This list is inclusive of the minimum evidence that would best serve the most basic requirements to be of benefit in any insurance claim, dispute or trial.

5. What NOT to Do and Say!

Be careful of what you say at the scene of a road crash. With emotions and adrenaline running high, people often say things after an accident that they come to regret. Stay calm and say less rather than more. Even an offhand or innocent remark may be recorded in police statements and insurance claims and used against you under cross-examination.

Most importantly, don’t admit you were to blame and definitely don’t offer any payment that could be construed as a bribe. Most insurers prohibit statements of admission, offer, promise, payment or indemnity.

Also, avoid saying things like the following:

  • “I will pay for the damages” or “I’m sure my insurance will take care of it” This could be seen as an admission of fault. Similarly, don’t agree to settle anything without the help of an attorney.
  • “I didn’t see you” or “I was on the phone”. These are examples of admissions against interest, which are admissible in court and may be used against you.
  • “I don’t need medical help. I’m fine.” This kind of statement can be an admission against interest. Also, it can take a few days for injuries to reveal themselves. Endorphins and adrenaline may initially mask the symptoms of injury.
  • Do not make any statements admitting fault as this may affect the investigation and authorisation of your claim.

6. A few more Do’s to Consider:

  • If your vehicle needs towing, only use a towing service that is authorised by your insurance company;
  • If you do not have tow cover with your insurance company ask the tow truck driver for a quote before your vehicle is towed away; and
  • Write down the name, contact details and vehicle registration number of the driver and tow truck and find out where your vehicle is being taken.
  • Remember these tips and inform your insurance company as soon as possible to ensure that you are back on the road in no time.

7. Reporting Duties to the Police

You must report the collision at a police station or an authorised office of a traffic officer within 24 hours, with your driving licence. If you could not do so because of your injuries, you must report it as soon as is reasonably practicable. (Where details are recorded at the scene by a police or traffic officer, you should have a valid driving licence in your possession. Failure to produce this licence is an offence.)

When two cars are involved in a collision and nobody is injured, the drivers may decide to pay for their repairs and to forgo a claim against each other. The police need not be called to the scene of such an accident, but it must be reported – by both drivers – at a police station within 24 hours.

It is an offence not to report an accident in which another person’s property has been damaged, or in which another person is injured, even if neither of the drivers intends taking legal action.

Stay safe out there and I hope you will never need this info!

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