Fender bender do's and don'ts: Here's what you should do in a crash

<i>Image: iStock</i>
<i>Image: iStock</i>

Cape Town - At some point you are bound to be involved in a fender bender. Minor motor vehicle accidents are fairly common in South Africa, especially on rainy days or during the evening when visibility is severely reduced.

Thankfully, these incidents are rarely fatal, but they do come with a significant dose of anger, confusion and subsequent admin to sort everything between the parties involved.

So, we’ve put together a handy guide to dealing with minor car accidents to help you navigate through this frustrating situation.

First things first: stop, take a deep breath and help those involved in the accident.  

What to do, decisions to make

According to Adv. Jackie Nagtegaal at Law for All, legally you are obliged to stop after hitting a car, person or animal.

Nagtegaal said: “If you decided to hit and run, you could face a fine of up to R180 000, time behind bars (up to 9 years) or both."

"Of course, if someone is injured, you have to call emergency services and tend to them first.

“Keep in mind that you could face criminal charges for reckless driving, negligent driving, culpable homicide, civil damages claims or a civil claim for personal injury, to name a few."

READ: Been in a crash? How to get a copy of an accident report

If no one is hurt and the damage to either car is minimal, the next step will be to move the vehicles so that they do not interfere with the flow of traffic and cause problems for other motorists. However, the post-accident positions of cars must be clearly marked off on the road (with paint or chalk) before moving.

24hour- time frame

Do note: In the unfortunate event that someone is injured, only a police or traffic officer is allowed to indicate whether or not the cars may be moved from the scene of the accident. Remember, the SAPS will only come out to the scene if someone was hurt and not if there are only damages sustained to the cars involved. If no one is injured, the accident must be reported to the police within 24hrs, regardless of whether anyone is considering legal action. 

It’s important to know that you are legally entitled to claim damages if another driver caused the accident and your vehicle is damaged as a result. Ideally, the other driver can claim from their insurance company, but, of course, not everyone has insurance.  

A quick checklist on what to do: 

1 Get full names and ID of the other driver and witnesses

2 Obtain the other driver’s and witnesses’ address, email and phone number 

3 Take pictures of the damage to your vehicle

4 Write down a detailed description of the vehicle – colour, make and model, registration number

5 If the police, traffic officers or medics show up, take down their details

6 Take down the details of tow truck employees.

7 NB! Do not admit fault or take responsibility for the accident, even if you were unequivocally the cause of the mishap. This could affect a claim with the insurance.

Law for All suggests that if you are relying on the good faith of the other driver to pay for the damages to your vehicle, it’s advisable to obtain at least three quotes for the repairs and present them to the driver. "Be sure to keep a very thorough paper trail and document all correspondence, so that you have evidence to fall back on should you need to."  

Click here for more information on how to resolve legal problems in the small claims court.

Do you homework

Needless to say, there is always a strong chance that this won’t run too smoothly, and it is worth knowing that the law is on your side. If the driver doesn’t pay for the damages, you must send a letter that brings them to terms; meaning, you serve them with a Letter of Demand.

Small Claims court vs. Magistrates Court

The letter must set out who was involved, what happened, the amount that must be paid and the date by which it must be paid (a 14-day grace period is recommended). Make it clear to the driver than if he/she doesn’t pay up, you will institute a civil claim for damages. Again, do your homework and gather the following documents:

• Vehicle registration documents

• Copy of driver’s license

• 3 Quotes for Damages

• Accident Report

• Statements from witnesses and your own version of events (Affidavits).

Bear in mind, you will only have 3 years from the date of the accident to claim, if not, the claim will lapse and there won’t be recourse. If the claim is for more than R15 000, it will have to be lodged in the Magistrates Court, and it is a good idea to get a lawyer’s assistance. For anything below R15 000, the Small Claims Court can be of assistance.

Lastly, there is no reason to feel powerless in a minor motor vehicle accident situation. Take comfort in knowing that there are many ways in which the law can work for you.

Here's what you need to know:

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