It’s your worst nightmare – you’ve crashed. It may be minor or serious, but at least you’re able to step out of the car. But now what?
The Automobile Association of South Africa (AA) has compiled this handy step-by-step guide, which you can print and use as a reference.
Remember that you are obliged by law to stop after being involved in a crash where anyone is killed or injured or any property damage occurs. This also applies to crashes involving animals, which includes dogs.
Other drivers might not see the accident scene in time, especially at night. Before you or your passengers step out of the car, check it is safe to do so. Round up injured or bewildered occupants and lead them to safety, somewhere off the road if possible. Once this is done, alert approaching motorists to the danger in the safest way you can.
If you don’t know the specific emergency number for the area you’re in, dial 112 on your cellphone. You will automatically be routed to the emergency services in the area.
With the emergency services now on their way, give whatever assistance you can while you wait. Medical help in the first hour after an injury improves chances of survival and recovery, but avoid trying to provide help beyond your capabilities. If someone is trapped in a car or has severe injuries, especially those which involve the back or neck, you should not move them unless there is an immediate threat to their life such as the car bursting into flames or slipping into water.
Anything you say or do at the scene might eventually come up in a court case. Even if you were at fault, do not admit it or make apologies which might be used as an admission of guilt.
When you take photos of the scene, include a wide view as well as the details of where cars came to rest.
When someone has been killed or injured, you may not move the cars except where the car is completely blocking the road, or with the permission of a traffic officer. If you move a car to allow other traffic to pass, the law requires you to mark its position on the road before doing so. This can be done with a piece of chalk or a crayon.
Don’t forget to take photos of skidmarks left by cars before the crash, and the locations of initial impacts if a crash involved more than one impact.
Record street names and use the geolocation feature on your cellphone to pinpoint your position.
Don’t forget to record the time of day – drivers quite often can’t recall the exact time of the crash, so make a note of it in case it becomes an issue later.
Ensure your photographs include the licence discs of each car and their registration plates. Record the make, model and colour of each car. Clear photographs of each side of each driver’s licence will ensure you record the drivers’ details accurately, especially their licence number and ID number.
If there are bystanders, ask if they saw the crash. If so, get their name and contact numbers so that the police can take witness statements if needed. It is also advisable to have a witness who can testify that you marked the position of any car you moved correctly – if someone is able to record a video of you marking the position of a car and moving it, keep the video as further proof that you acted according to the law.
With the details properly documented, contact your insurance provider to arrange for your car to be towed. Ensure that you use a towing service affiliated and authorised by your insurance provider to avoid paying for the tow and possible storage. Your insurance provider may be able to help with alternative transport if you have selected this option for your policy.
You are required by law to report any crash within 24 hours, although in cases where you are injured in the crash and unable to comply with this, the law allows you to report the crash “as soon as is reasonably practicable”.
Once you’ve done all of the above, you can leave the matter in the hands of the police and your insurers who will contact you if more information is needed.