It's not something we like to dwell on, but unfortunately, car accidents are a frequent occurrence. Whether you crash into someone or they crash into you, knowing what to do next when you're involved in an accident is important.

Taking the right steps can stop a bad situation turning into something worse. It can also help ensure the insurance claim process goes as smoothly as possible.

To make sure you're prepared for the unexpected, you'll find everything you need to know about what to do if you're involved in a car accident in our need-to-know guide.

What to do immediately after a car accident

First things first, you should stop the car as soon as you can; it's an offence not to. Next, turn off the engine and switch your hazard lights on.

Check for any injuries to yourself or your passengers. If it's a minor collision you're involved in and there are no injuries, then make a note just in case – the other person(s) involved may try to claim for an injury. However, if anyone is hurt or the road is blocked, call the police and an ambulance.

Remember, it's important to stay calm. You're going to be shaken after an accident, so take a few deep breaths before you react. How you respond in the immediate aftermath plays a big part in how the rest of the process goes.

When you do exit your vehicle, don't blow your top, apologise or admit responsibility for the accident until you know exactly what's happened – this protects you from liability if it wasn't your fault.

Should I call the police?

You should call the police if any of the following occur:

  • The other driver or drivers leave the scene without giving details
  • The other driver has no insurance or is under the influence of drink or drugs
  • You suspect that the other driver has deliberately caused the collision

Tell the police about the accident within 24 hours. Failure to do so can result in a fine, points on your licence or a disqualification from driving altogether.

Exchanging motoring details

If the accident caused damage or injury, you should share your name and address with everyone involved; the law says you must do this. Swap insurance information and details with the other driver(s) and take down the details of any passengers and witnesses to the accident.

At this stage, try to find out if the other driver is the registered owner of the vehicle. If not, find out who the owner is and get that information too; it may be a company car, for instance.

If you're involved in an accident where the other vehicle is a foreign lorry, be sure to get the numbers on both the lorry and its trailer (sometimes these can be different). Get the name of the company if it's on the side of the lorry too.

What do I need to record at the accident scene?

You'll need to note down the make, model, colour and number plate of the vehicles involved in the accident. Taking pictures of these things on your phone is sufficient too.

Additionally, you should make a note of the time and date of the crash, along with the driving conditions including the weather, lighting and road quality (i.e., whether it was wet or muddy).

Record the damage that was caused to the vehicles, as well as any injuries to drivers, passengers or pedestrians. Use the camera on your phone to take pictures of the scene, the position of the cars involved, and the damage done to them.

If nobody else is involved in the accident, but you caused damage to private property or a parked car, be sure to leave your details in a note where the owner can see. Don't be tempted to drive off – if a witness or CCTV camera saw you and managed to get your details, you could land yourself in even more trouble.

Making a claim

Ideally, you should phone your insurance company at the time of the accident. If not, contact them as soon as possible.

Failing to do so within the time period set out in your policy may invalidate your cover and leave you with a hefty bill to pay. Make sure you check the wording of your car insurance policy carefully, as this period can differ from two days to two weeks after the accident.

They'll ask for the following:

  • Your policy number or information to identify you, such as your postcode and car registration number
  • The registration number of the cars involved
  • The driver's name, address and phone number
  • The driver's insurance details (if you have them)

You'll also need to give your insurance company as much information about the accident as possible. This is where taking pictures of the scene will come in useful, along with the contact details of any witnesses who have agreed to support your claim.

What if I don't claim?

Even if you decide not to make a claim, you should still tell your insurer about the accident because the other driver may try to make a claim without you knowing. You may choose not to claim:

  • To keep your no claims discount intact, if you don't have a 'protected no claims discount'
  • If you decide to pay for the repairs yourself

Crash-for-cash claimants

As we mentioned earlier, some people may try to deliberately cause a collision to make a fraudulent insurance claim.

These motorists, known as crash-for-cash claimants, do this by braking unexpectedly, causing you to crash into them, or by flashing their lights to indicate you're free to go before crashing into you on purpose. Sometimes they even take out their brake light bulbs, so there's no warning when they slam on the brakes at all.

Crash-for-cash claimants usually blame you for the accident, handing you their insurance info which is already written out on a bit of paper.

In any event, a few weeks after the incident, your insurance company will contact you highlighting the damage from the accident, and it's often the case that the claims these motorists make are wildly exaggerated, so they can win the maximum amount of money back.

So, what can you do to avoid being caught in such scams? When driving, always do the following:

  • Be careful in stop-start traffic, at merging junctions and roundabouts
  • Leave lots of space between you and the car in front
  • Watch out for erratic driving such as slowing down for no reason
  • Take note if the brake lights of the car in front don't work, increasing your distance if so

You can even go a step further by installing a dash cam to help prove your innocence against crash-for-cash claims. Take a look at our article on dash cams for more information.

Looking for more from the Brindley Group? Click here to check out all our news from the motoring world, or if you’re in the market for a new car, see how we can help at our homepage.