What Must I Do if I am Involved in a Car Accident?

As traumatic as a car accident can be, it isn’t something most people prepare for. Indeed, considering how often you drive around town without crashing, it seems like a fairly rare occurrence. But is it? Studies have found that around 77% of drivers have been in a car accident and that most people will experience between 3-4 crashes in their lives. With these figures in mind, perhaps it would be wise to think of a car crash as something quite likely to occur at some point in the future and maybe we could all benefit from answering a few simple questions. For instance, what are the dos and don’ts following a car crash? How does fault factor into it? And what does the law say about all this? What Must I Do if I am Involved in a Car Accident?

In the immediate aftermath of a car accident, there are many things that you should and should not do. Notably, various legal requirements can be found in Chapter X of The National Road Traffic Act 93 of 1996 which specifies the duties of the driver in the event of an accident.

While most of the points in this article, such as not leaving the scene of the accident, are such legal duties, others, such as taking photos, are more practical in nature and are advised for insurance purposes. Some of the more vital requirements are as follows –

What Must I Do if I am Involved in a Car Accident?
What Must I Do if I am Involved in a Car Accident?

What to Do when you are Involved in a Car Accident

  • Stop your vehicle – Immediately after the crash you should stop your vehicle, put on your hazards, and only get out if it is safe to do so.
  • Help anyone who has been injured – If anyone has been hurt or is in danger, you should immediately call an ambulance and/or rescue unit. You should not attempt first aid unless you are qualified to do so.
  • Collect as much information as possible – It is in your best interest to collect as much evidence and information as possible following an incident, this includes things like –
  1. Full names of all individuals involved including police officers, medical personnel and eyewitnesses
  2. ID numbers
  3. Licence plate numbers
  4. Weather Conditions
  5. Location of the crash
  6. Etc
  • Take photos – One of the best methods for collecting vital information involves taking multiple pictures of your car/property and the other person’s car/property. You should also take pictures from multiple angles and distances.
  • Make a police report – You must report the incident to the police within 24 hours if a person has been injured or killed and/or if property has been damaged (property includes vehicles and animals). If you are unable to make a report within this timeframe (eg, you are badly injured and in the hospital) you should instead make the report when you are reasonably able to do so while explaining why you were delayed. Please note that you must make this report even if neither party intends to take legal action.
  • Inform your insurance company of the incident – You should file a report with your insurance provider even if you do not wish to make a claim as the other party may wish to make a claim against your policy.

As you can see, there are many things that you should do after a car accident, however, of equal importance are all the things that you should not do.

What Must I Do if I am Involved in a Car Accident?
What Must I Do if I am Involved in a Car Accident?

What you Should NOT do when involved in a Car Accident

  • Do not leave the scene until a police officer has given you permission – After a crash, the driver must remain at the scene of the accident. Some people mistakenly believe that if it was not a serious incident, they do not have to stick around. Please remember that leaving the scene of an accident, regardless of the severity of the damage, can be regarded as a hit-and-run and could result in harsh penalties such as a fine of up to R180 000 or a 9-year prison sentence. You should only leave the scene if you have been injured and require medical treatment.
  • Do not move your vehicle – You should only move your vehicle when it is absolutely necessary, such as when it is completely blocking the flow of traffic or when you have been asked to move by a police officer. Before moving the vehicles, you should try to outline their original positions using chalk.
  • Do not admit liability – Be very careful about what you say following the incident. Telling the other person that you’ll pay for damages can be viewed as an admission of fault. Additionally, telling the person that you weren’t paying attention or that you weren’t watching where you were going can also be used against you later.
  • Do not consume any alcohol and/or drugs unless they are provided by a medical practitioner – Following an accident you may be asked to submit to a barrage of tests and questions from police officers. Being drunk or incoherent during this period could negatively impact your situation.
  • Do not agree to any settlements without first consulting an attorney – You are under no obligation to financially settle the matter right after it’s happened. Don’t be pressured into agreeing to anything before consulting a legal professional.

What do you do After a Minor Car Accident?

As noted, you should never make the mistake of thinking an accident was so minor that you do not need to obey the aforementioned rules. Even if nobody was injured and the property damage is minor you should do everything by the book to ensure that you are in the clear, legally speaking.

What Must I Do if I am Involved in a Car Accident?
What Must I Do if I am Involved in a Car Accident?

What happens when Both Drivers are at Fault?

In many cases, when both drivers are somewhat to blame for an accident, they come to an agreement regarding liability and pay without getting lawyers involved, however, in some instances, negotiations break down and the issue is taken to court. When this occurs, judges work to determine how blame and damages are to be apportioned.

They do this by considering multiple factors ranging from the actions of both parties to the facts of the case. More than one driver may be at fault for an accident and, in these scenarios, blame is usually apportioned in a kind of ratio form. In other words, one driver may be found to be 70% responsible, while the other driver is only 30% responsible. The subsequent settling of the financial dispute will be influenced by this ruling with each party paying their share of the damages relative to their level of fault.

What do I do if My Car is Written Off?

While the post-accident legal procedure is pretty much the same regardless of how bad the crash was, there are a few important things to remember when your vehicle has been written off completely –

  • Be careful when being towed – Most insurance companies have authorised towing services that should be used in the case of an accident. Make sure you are not towed by a different company or, if you do not have insurance, make sure that you get a quote from a tow truck driver before you enlist their services.   
  • Don’t lie to your insurance company – After particularly bad accidents, people have a tendency to downplay the extent of the damages, however, this can lead to serious problems if your insurer believes that you have misled them. 
  • Remember to Deregister your vehicle – Once your car has been written off, its registration will be voided and you will need to apply for deregistration.

Who is Liable for Damages if it wasn’t My Fault?

Damage claims relating to serious bodily injuries and death can be made with the RAF so long as you were not wholly responsible for the accident. Property damage claims must be made with the negligent party themselves.

What Must I Do if I am Involved in a Car Accident?
What Must I Do if I am Involved in a Car Accident?

You cannot make a claim if you were the only person involved in the accident (ie, if you drove into a tree) unless the crash was caused by external factors such as poorly maintained roads.

In Conclusion – What do you do When you’re Involved in a Car Accident?

There are many legal duties and practical steps to take following a car accident. Generally, the do’s and don’ts of the situation proceed as follows –

Stop your vehicle  Do not leave the scene until you have been given permission  
Help anyone who has been injured  Do not move your vehicle unless absolutely necessary
Collect as much information as possible  Do not admit liability
Take photos  Do not consume alcohol/drugs unless prescribed by a medical professional  
Make a Police Report  Do not consent to any agreements/settlements without first consulting with your attorney  
Inform your insurance company of the accident   

When both drivers are at fault, they usually come to some sort of agreement with regard to the payment of damages. If an agreement is not reached, the matter may end up in court where a judge will determine the level of the blame of each party. The amount of money that you will need to pay will be directly related to the level of blame for which you are responsible.

If you have suffered serious bodily injuries or damages related to the death of a loved one, you may be able to make a claim with the RAF. Personal damages, on the other hand, must be claimed from the negligent party directly. 

Disclaimer LAW101: All of our posts are for research purposes only. Law 101 aims to assist its readers with useful information on the laws of our country that can guide you to make decisions in line with the South African Governmental Laws currently in place. Although our posts cite the constitution in many instances, they are intended to assist readers who are looking to expand their knowledge of the law. Should you require specific legal advice we advise you to get in touch with a qualified legal expert.

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