What Do You Do in a Car Accident?
Every day, thousands of people get behind the wheel, driving to family, social events or work. Unfortunately, every day road traffic accidents also occur, ranging in severity from a ‘fender bender’ — what is considered a minor car accident — to the much more severe. Sadly, some 1,292 people suffered serious injuries on Irish roads last year.
If you’re one of Ireland’s estimated 2.8m licensed drivers, it’s important to know what to do in a car accident. If you don’t know the correct steps to follow, you may find yourself facing additional legal and financial problems.
At HOMS Assist, we have more than 50 years of experience dealing with road traffic accidents, so we’ve put together a complete guide to help you in this situation.
First Steps: Make Sure Everyone Is Safe
1. Stop the Vehicle after Impact
This may sound simple, but it’s very important, even for a minor accident. You’ll need to come to a complete stop, apply your parking brake and turn off your engine. You should also switch on your hazard lights to alert oncoming drivers and pedestrians. An Garda Síochána advises that you then stay at the scene for a ‘reasonable time’.
If you keep driving and leave a scene in which a person may be injured with the intent of escaping civil or criminal liability, you could face serious charges, with penalties of up to ten years in prison.
2. Don’t Panic
A car accident can be shocking and upsetting for lots of reasons, but it’s vital that you don’t panic. If you’re upset, you may not be able to think clearly and act responsibly.
There are some basic steps you can take to stay calm, including taking a moment to steady yourself before getting out of the car. You should also try to practise deep breathing to steady your heart rate. If and when you feel ready to exit the vehicle, assess the situation before taking action.
3. Check for Injuries
At the earliest opportunity, you should check both yourself and any other drivers, passengers, cyclists or pedestrians for injuries sustained. If you’re in shock, you may not feel as much pain as normal, so take a moment to scan for any obvious signs of injury. The most common injuries from car accidents include whiplash, back or neck injuries.
If you feel okay and it’s safe to do so, you should move onto checking other people. An Garda Síochána advises you to “keep any injured people warm, by placing coats or rugs around them”. They also caution that you shouldn’t remove helmets from motorcyclists, or attempt to move an injured person “unless there is a risk of fire or of the vehicle turning over”.
4. Leave the Car and Mark the Scene
If it’s safe to do so, you should leave the car next. Make sure you are careful to avoid oncoming traffic and stay as close to the side of the road as possible.
It’s also a good idea to mark the scene of an accident, using chalk, paint or any other method available to you. This might include drawing on the road to show the position of cars, the presence of skid marks and the location of any detached pieces of equipment.
Next Steps: Call for Help
1. Call 999 or 112
If you or anybody else is injured, you should contact the emergency services on 999 or 112 immediately. When asked by the operator, you should confirm if you need the Gardaí, the ambulance service, the fire service or all three.
Try to speak clearly and slowly, answering all of the operator’s questions. Sometimes you might have to repeat yourself, but they’re trained to get all the information they need to help treat those in need.
2. Call the Gardaí
Even if you only appear to have had a minor accident, you still need to call the Gardaí. If they do not arrive at the scene within a reasonable time, you must still report the incident to your nearest Garda station as soon as possible. This is particularly important if you or another person is injured.
The Road Safety Authority (RSA) notes that if you fail to comply with the above requirements, with the intent of escaping civil or criminal liability, in certain situations you may be convicted and receive a fine of up to €20,000 or a prison term of up to 10 years.
They also point out that even if the accident damages property only, you must still report it to a Garda. “If there is no Garda available, you must provide this information to the owner or the person in charge of the property.”
Sometimes, neither the Gardaí nor the owner will be available. In this instance, the RSA says “you must give all relevant information at a Garda station as soon as reasonably possible.”
Final Steps: Collect Information
1. Photograph the Car Accident
Almost all of us have smartphones now, which can be a great help in emergency situations. If it’s possible, take photographs and videos of the accident scene, including the position of your car and any others that might be involved.
Try to capture the scene as a whole, and then zoom in or move closer to take photographs of smaller areas, such as tyre marks on a road or damage to a car. Remember to back up your phone as soon as possible to safeguard the images for as long as you may need them — which could be years after the date.
Do car accident claims go to court? Sometimes, in which case keeping a visual record of the scene and any damage caused might come in very useful.*
2. Note All Injuries And Damages
You can also use the note or voice recording function on your phone to take a detailed record of any injuries and damages. Try to describe everything as you see it, as accurately as possible.
As the shock recedes and we move on with our lives, our memories of an accident can become less accurate. Notes you took at the time may prove to be vital in a later court hearing, particularly if recollections differ.
3. Note Other Details Related to the Accident
Try to also record any other details you think may be important. These could include the driving conditions on the date of the accident, the driving behaviour of those involved, or even if you recall a light being red, amber or green. If there are witnesses who can contribute any extra insight, write down their thoughts and potentially their contact details too, if available.
4. Exchange Motoring Details
This is a key part of what to do in a car accident. You’ll need to write down the following details carefully:
- Your names, addresses and phone numbers
- The address of the owner of the vehicle you are driving if it’s not your car
- Your motor insurance company names and numbers
- Your motor insurance policy numbers
- The driver's licence numbers
- Your vehicle’s registration numbers
- Your car’s year, make, model and colour
5. Be Mindful of What you Say
You’re obliged to give certain key information — including your name and address — to a Garda or in their absence, any person involved in the crash or, if requested, an independent witness.
However, apart from that, you should stick to the facts only; do not express opinions, and do not admit liability.
You might be wondering but what happens if I'm at fault in a car accident? Even if that’s the case, it’s still best to discuss this with a legal professional first. The legal aftermath of a car accident can become the type of contentious business a solicitor is best trained to deal with.
6. Deciding Whether to Move Your Car
This is a common question when considering what to do after a minor car accident.
An Garda Síochána advises that “if vehicles are blocking the roadway or posing a danger to other road users, the roadway should be marked and the vehicle should then be removed as soon as possible”.
Of course, if you or another person is hurt, or if the accident is serious, you should leave the car where it is unless directed by a Garda to move it.
7. Call Your Insurance Provider
You will also need to call your insurance provider. Their details will be on your insurance disc on your windscreen, along with your policy number. They will advise you on the next steps required.
Personal Injury Claims for Road Traffic Accidents
If you’ve been hurt, you may wish to lodge a personal injury claim. This is the formal process of recovering compensation (an award or settlement) from the person responsible for your injuries. In order to satisfy a personal injury claim, a number of conditions must be present.
A qualified personal injury lawyer will be able to explain to you in more detail how to claim for injury after a car accident. While a solicitor may not calculate the exact percentage or proportion of compensation you may be entitled to, they can guide you through the process, filing paperwork on your behalf and advising you on how to proceed.
What is the time limit to make a road traffic accident claim?
The Statute of Limitations imposes strict time limits in which legal actions must be commenced. In the case of a personal injury claim, the general rule is that the claims process must begin and proceedings must be issued within two years, less a day, of the date of the negligent act. When the matter is lodged with the Injuries Board, the clock stops, as it could take time to gather medical reports, collate out-of-pocket expenses or experts’ fees or other charges.
It’s important to note that the rules are different when the accident involves children under 18 years of age.
If you or your loved one has been involved in a car accident, you may be entitled to a personal injury claim. If you’re wondering how to claim personal injury from a car accident, or how to ensure your car is repaired or replaced, your first step should be to get in touch with a qualified solicitor.
With over 50 years of experience advising clients, we’re here to provide expert legal advice when you need it most.
Call us today on 1800 207 207 or contact us online.