Questions we answer in this guide:
- What should you do if you’re involved in an accident?
- When should you report an accident to the police?
- What happens if you're reported for leaving the scene of an accident?
If you're a driver who's involved in an accident, you must stop and stay at the scene in order to provide your personal information and insurance details to the other driver (or drivers) involved or the police (if they're at the scene).
A lot of people don't realise that it's a criminal offence not to – but there are harsh penalties for drivers who fail to stop after an accident, particularly where someone's been injured and it wasn’t reported to police.
Penalties include a fine of up to £5,000, 6 months imprisonment and 5–10 penalty points. These offences remain on a driver’s record for 4 years from the date of the offense.
What to do at the scene of an accident
If you're involved in an accident, you must stop – regardless of who’s fault it may have been or how minimal the damage caused.
In the event that you're involved in an accident and the other driver leaves the scene, you should call the police immediately.
Assuming all drivers involved stop and there haven’t been any injuries to persons, or damage to property, you and the other drivers should check your vehicles and make notes of any damage.
Inspect all the vehicles involved and any other property (for example, street signs) for signs of damage.
Take pictures of the scene of the accident, including any damage, and make a note of what happened in the moments beforehand.
Drivers should exchange their personal information, i.e. their… • name and address • telephone number • vehicle registration number, and • insurance details
If there were any witnesses to the accident, you should get their contact details too.
Crucially, it’s imperative that you don't admit that you may have been at fault for the accident while at the scene. Even if the police are present, you don't have to give a statement right away and are well within your rights to seek legal advice before you talk to them.
Reporting an accident to the police
You don't need to report an accident to the police unless someone was injured or the resulting scene is causing an obstruction or a hazard to other road users.
By the letter of the law, you have 24 hours to inform the police – although, in practice, it should be done as soon as is reasonably practicable.
Neglecting to do so is known as ‘failing to report an accident within 24 hours’ and carries similar penalties to failing to stop for an accident.
You should report the accident in person to the police. Not doing so in person and instead over the phone, for example, may still result in a charge of failing to report an accident.
Leaving the scene of an accident
The penalties for failing to stop and/or failing to report an accident are there to deter drivers, in particular those involved in very serious accidents, from fleeing the scene.
If people are hurt or in need of urgent assistance, or if the road is rendered unsafe for others as a result, it may be many hours until the help can arrive unless those involved contact the authorities. As such, the harsher end of punishment is saved for the most egregious cases, such as hit-and-run offences. You may also be charged with failing to stop if you failed to provide all the necessary personal information, vehicle and insurance details.
The courts are open to defences against these charges and, while the penalties can be severe, the courts will take in to account mitigating circumstances. For one, it’s not unheard of for drivers to leave the scene of an accident without even realising it. For example, if they were unaware they'd caused any damage and the driver can show that they were unaware of this at the time. Alternately, you may receive a lighter punishment if you can show that you feared for your own safety, either from other motorists involved or passersby, if you left your vehicle or remained at the scene.
Want to know more about motoring law?
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