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How to take action after a car accident

Cartoon of two people after crash
3rd November 2014

Being in a car accident can be devastating, and even if you aren’t injured, it’s not unusual to feel shaken afterwards. A car accident can make you feel a wide range of emotions including shock, guilt, fear, nervousness and anger. You may also start to worry about how you are going to pay for any damages and get back on the road again.

It’s important to recognise that unfortunately, car accidents are extremely common, and even the very best drivers can find themselves having to reluctantly exchange numbers with another motorist at the side of the road. Crashes are understandably stressful and can prove to be costly.

Regardless of whether you’re to blame for the accident or not, both drivers have very similar responsibilities following on from a crash. Have a look at our table below to see what you must do:

At faultNot at fault
Safety first: Once you’ve checked that everyone in your vehicle is safe and no one is injured, get out of your car if it is safe to do so and check on any other drivers or passengers involved. It goes without saying that if anyone is showing the slightest signs of an injury or is struggling to move, you should call an ambulance immediately.
If you can safely move your vehicle, try to manoeuvre it into a position where it’s not blocking traffic and put on your hazard lights.
If the vehicles aren’t causing any serious obstructions to other drivers, you might want to take photos of the crash before moving them to a safer spot. Photos of the damage and positioning of the cars can at a later stage help to determine who was at fault. But if your cars are blocking a busy road or fast moving traffic is speeding by, you might have to forget the photos until after you’ve moved your car. Safety is the most important thing and it’s never worth causing a pile up for the sake of a few photos to show your insurer.
Don’t admit fault. Even if it’s obvious, try not to apologise or use any language that could later be used against you in the claims process. Keep conversation neutral and try only to speak to the police and your insurance company about the accident. Let them assign blame. Call the police. Technically either party should call the police, but if you’re not at fault it definitely helps to have the police report so the other person can’t try to pass the blame.

Once you’ve ensured that everyone is safe and have minimized the risk of causing any more accidents, make sure you swap information with the other driver, including:

  • Name
  • Phone number
  • Insurance policy number
  • Car registration

Also be sure to note the time and location of the accident.

Although it may be tempting, try not to offer money rather than going through insurance. This is an admission of blame and if someone wants to take advantage, they will. Don’t accept cash from the other party – it’s always better to go through insurance. The damage might be worse than you first suspect and if you start to experience medical complications later down the line, you may wish you’d called on your insurance.
Find witnesses. Swap details with any passersby or motorists who saw what happened so that you have an unbiased account of the event. Even if you’re at fault, you still may be grateful of witness sightings as they can prevent your actions from being blown out of proportion. It’s easy for the person who wasn’t to blame for the crash to exaggerate your behavior. If you weren’t responsible for a crash, witnesses can come in handy to ensure that you don’t get the blame. It can often be one driver’s word against the other and so having a witness with an unbiased account of what happened can prove valuable when it comes to insurance.
Contact your insurer as soon as possible. Even if you’re to blame, they need to know what happened and it’s usually best coming from you first rather than from the other driver’s insurer. In order to make a claim against the other driver’s insurer, you must contact your insurer as soon as possible to let them know what happened. They’ll take over so that you can focus on getting back on the road.

Call the police

Even if the damage to your car is minimal, it’s important to call the police. The other driver may suggest exchanging numbers and settling the issue between yourselves, but by not contacting the police, you risk voiding your insurance.

The police will help to establish liability, so if you’re not at fault, you may need this evidence should the other driver later change their mind and accuse you of being at fault. They may breathalyse each driver to find out whether there were any underlying causes of the crash.

When it’s time for your insurers to work out what happened, police documents will be requested. Without a police record, it can sometimes be difficult to determine who is at fault as it can be a case of one person’s word against another.

Even if you are responsible for the accident, it’s still important to call the police. You may not be as much at fault as you think you are and there’s also the possibility that the other driver shared some responsibility too. If you crashed into the back of another car, you might automatically assume that you’re to blame, but if that other person is under the influence of alcohol, for example, they would share some liability too.

Gather evidence

While this may seem like a job for the police, which it is, it’s also important that you gather as much evidence as you can too, so that you can protect yourself from potential claims.

Take photos, write down notes, record the driver’s registration plate and if there were any witnesses, ask if they’d mind giving you their contact details. If you find any fragments of your car nearby, record the location to emphasise the impact of the crash.

Beware of staged accidents

There are sometimes instances where drivers deliberately cause a minor road accident in order to make a claim on their insurance or get money out of the other driver immediately. This is often achieved by suddenly breaking after setting off from some traffic lights, causing the driver behind to crash into the back. The police are trained to recognise such cases of fraud, so it’s good to have them on hand to help.

What to do if you hit a parked car

Hitting a parked car and driving off without finding the owner or leaving a note is technically classed as a hit and run. While it can be tempting to just leave the scene as soon as possible to avoid getting in trouble, if you’re caught on CCTV or someone takes photos of you, you could land yourself in hot water.

Just as you would in any accident, get out of the car and assess the damage to each vehicle. If either car is in a really bad way, you should probably call the police immediately. Take photos of the damage so that the driver doesn’t try to blame you for any other problems with their car at a later date.

If the damage isn’t severe and you find yourself writing a note, again, avoid apologising or admitting fault. Saying sorry may seem like the obvious thing to do since the other car was stationary, but try not to do it. If the owner of the other vehicle contacts you and seems angry, stay calm and tell them to get in touch with your insurers. That’s all you can do.

Report any delayed injuries

Whiplash is a common injury that can occur as a result of a car accident, but the symptoms associated with this often debilitating injury often don’t arise until a day or two after the accident. Whiplash happens when the impact of a crash forces the neck to move outside its typical range of movement, causing damage to ligaments and tendons. Whiplash can cause pain and stiffness of then neck, headaches, soreness of the arms and shoulders, back pain and it can also make it difficult for a sufferer to turn their head or bend their neck. If it can be proved that the accident was not your fault, you may be entitled to compensation for a whiplash injury. Whiplash injuries can not only cause sufferers severe pain in the days and weeks following an accident, it can also lead to other neck and back problems, preventing the person from working and affecting their quality of life.

If you have been involved in a car accident and would like to speak to our professional and sympathetic solicitors about what to do next, please don’t hesitate to contact us for a chat.