Road accidents

Been in a car accident? Here's what you need to do.

Car crashed into a tree


What do you do after a traffic accident?

The first thing you should do is stop the car and try to stay calm and not panic. If someone is hurt, call 999 to alert the emergency services. Even if the accident isn’t your fault, you’re legally required to stop at the scene of an accident if:

  • Someone’s been injured;
  • There’s damage to someone’s vehicle or property;
  • An animal has been injured or killed;
  • A fixed object has been damaged.

After a collision you’ll be feeling lots of different emotions. You might be confused about what happened, angry because of another driver’s incompetence, or relieved that you’re still in one piece. Take a few minutes to compose yourself and avoid lashing out, however tempting it may be.

Access the damage

Once you’ve established whether anyone is hurt or not, check out the damage that’s been done to any vehicles or property. If you’ve got a camera with you, take photographs of the vehicles or draw a sketch of what happened and any damage that was done.

“Any information you can collect, any witnesses and any pictures you can get will be absolutely vital,” says Andrew Howard, Head of safety for the AA. “A lot of people would also advise you to carry a disposable camera in the car so you’re able to record what goes on.”

What you need for an insurance claim

It’s very important that you keep everything fresh in your mind in case you need to make an insurance claim, so take notes about what happened, such as:

  • Time and date of the accident;
  • Weather conditions;
  • Estimated speeds of the vehicles;
  • Details of any vehicles involved, including: the registration number; car model; any distinguishing features; the number of passengers in the vehicles;
  • Details of any witnesses that saw the accident;
  • Damage done to the vehicles;
  • Any injuries that were sustained.

Exchanging details

When someone involved in an accident asks for your contact details, you’re legally required to do so, and vice versa. Take down the name, address, telephone number, registration number and insurance details of any other drivers involved. This will enable you to contact each other about claiming insurance.

Telling the police

If you’re unable to swap details with the other driver at the scene of the accident, make sure you report the accident to the police within 24 hours. The police should also be notified if someone has been injured in the crash, or if one of the drivers is unable to produce an insurance certificate at the scene.

In England, Wales and Scotland, the owner of a car can be traced by the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) if they refuse to give their contact details at the scene of an accident. This information can be given to anyone who has a good reason for knowing, as long as it relates to a vehicle or its use on the road.

Crashing into objects

If you hit a stationary object, such as a lamppost, bollard or parked car, you’ll need to stop your vehicle and be prepared to give your details to anybody who asks for it. If the person responsible for the stationary object cannot be contacted then you will need to report the accident to the police so they can log the accident and contact the owner.

Learner drivers

Learner drivers have exactly the same rights as other drivers when they’re involved in a traffic accident. It’s their duty to report an accident and only the responsibility of the driver’s supervisor in certain situations. The police are allowed to ask for the supervisor’s driving licence and certificate of insurance if they need it.

Collisions with animals

If you’ve hit an animal on the road and it’s still alive then call the police so they can get a vet out to the scene. There is no legal requirement to report a road accident involving a wild animal to the police; however, accidents involving pigs, cattle, goats, sheep, horses and dogs need to be reported.

If you’re involved in an accident don’t:

  • Drive away without stopping – it’s a criminal offence;
  • Admit that it was your fault. You may find later that the other driver was drunk, driving too fast or without lights – in which case you might not be to blame at all. If you do admit responsibility, your words may end up being used against you in court and may affect your insurance claim;
  • Be swayed if the other driver suggests that calling the police isn’t necessary, and/or offers you cash to cover the damage. It might be an offence not to report the accident, and you may find that the damage to your vehicle costs a lot more than the fan of cash being waved under your nose.

Thanks to Citizens Advice Bureau for help with this article.

Photo of crashed car by volunteer photographer Jeff Arris

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By Chris Denholm

Updated on 29-Sep-2015