Being involved in a car accident can be a traumatic affair. In the aftermath, a driver’s mind will be jumping about like a frog in a box.
There’s the immediate concern for the people involved, whether you should alert the police or emergency services. Then there’s the worry and cost of repairing the car, how you’re going to get around while it’s off the road, and maybe even what your employer, partner, or parents will say when you tell them.
But keeping a cool head is not only good for the blood pressure, it can minimise future cost and disruption. Information is the key here - you need to collect as much as possible, no matter who is at fault.
Our memories can play tricks on us so it’s a good idea to keep a notebook and pen in the car, just in case. Alternatively, make notes on your smartphone and remember to use its camera. And if you don’t have a mobile, keeping a disposable camera in the glovebox might be a sensible idea.
Then there are certain things you must and must not do...
What you must do
First of all, stop. It’s an offence to drive off if there has been harm to people or property. Try to pull over in a safe place without obstructing the traffic. Then check whether anybody needs attention from the emergency services.
You must also exchange details with the other driver if there has been injury to people or damage to property. Drivers must also stop if an animal other than their own (dog, horse, sheep, cow, goat) has been injured or killed.
What you must not do
Don’t drive off. That could result in being convicted of failure to stop and failure to report an accident, which can lead to a £5,000 fine and penalty points.
You shouldn’t admit guilt either. Even if you think you are to blame, you may have been the victim of a crash for cash scam or something you didn’t see might have happened to the other driver that made the crash unavoidable.
Record the time, date and driving conditions
Try to note as many details as you possibly can. What’s the date and time of day? How heavy is the traffic? What are the weather conditions? Are the streetlights on? What direction are you travelling in? Are there any road signs or signals?
Note the vehicles
Note precisely the make, model, registration number and colour of any third party car involved in the accident. Then add the direction it was travelling in, the car’s condition and how many passengers it was carrying. Note down if they were indicating or braking and what role they had in the accident.
The people at the scene fall into two categories: those involved and those who are witnesses. You want the name, address and telephone number of all of them.
In order not to muddle them up, write these down in two columns, one for drivers or pedestrians, another for witnesses. If it helps, give a brief description of what they were wearing. Note down which car they were in and get the insurance details of the relevant drivers. If any of the vehicles are being used for work (e.g. delivery van), get their employer’s details too. And if there are any police officers present, get their name, rank, and the number on their collar.
While it’s still fresh in your mind, write down the sequence of events as you remember them. If it’s easier, sketch out what happened. And be sure to include anything that might be relevant, such as parked vehicles obscuring your view. It’s important to do this early - you may find that talking to other people influences your view on what happened.
What’s the damage?
Note any damage to the vehicles or property. Make sure that the damage you record was actually caused in this crash. It’s not unheard of for people to claim for damage caused in a previous accident.
Take picture or video evidence
Throughout the whole process, it’s wise to be taking photographs or video footage of the scene, the cars, the damage and the people.
In the aftermath
After you’ve had time to think about what happened, you may remember further details that could prove significant. It’s important you then contact your insurer as soon as you’re reasonably able to.