By Essie Bester
We like to think that it will never happen to us, but unfortunately car accidents are a reality. Your world can be turned topsyturvy in the wink of an eye by screeching tyres, blaring hooters and the sudden jerking of your safety belt.
In such a situation it is ridiculously easy to lose your calm. However, it is extremely important to stay calm and to know what your immediate steps should be.
According to Arrive Alive’s website you should do the following:
- If you were involved in or instrumental to an accident on a public road in which any other person was killed or injured or has suffered damage to any possession or animal, you must immediately stop your vehicle.
- Determine the nature and extent of injuries.
- Give the help you can – even if it is only to call an ambulance or rescue unit. The numbers are as follows: Government ambulance: 10177; Netcare: 082 911; ER24: 084 124.
- Do not try to move an injured person or do anything that can worsen an injury.
- Call the police (10111), no matter how minor the accident, and stay at the scene until a police officer says that you may leave.
- Do not make the mistake of thinking that you don’t have to stop if the accident is not serious. Failure to stop is seen as a hit-and-run and is a criminal offense, even if nobody was killed or seriously injured.
- As soon as you have stopped, switch on your hazard lights to warn other drivers. Also position a warning triangle about 45 metres from the scene of the accident to warn approaching traffic.
- You are required by law to divulge your personal details to anybody who has reasonable grounds to ask for them. This includes other drivers involved in the accident as well as law enforcement officers. You must also show your driver’s licence if you were diving.
- If the vehicle does not belong to you – give the name and address of the owner and the registration number of the vehicle.
- It is important to get every detail (names, ID numbers, contact details and vehicle registration numbers) of the other parties concerned as well as of eye witnesses – especially if it is not clear who exactly caused the accident.
- Take photos immediately after the accident. A checklist will show the following:
the positions of the vehicles and the damage to them from every angle, from far enough to indicate how and where each vehicle came to a stop, and from near enough to highlight the damage
the scene in general (with all vehicles) from every available angle
the licence discs and/or number plates, name plates, trade mark and the manufacturer and model of every vehicle
the vehicles of law enforcement units, ambulances and/or fire services, towing and repair units and all other vehicles present
evidence such as brake marks on the road or liquids that may have spilled all road closures, road works, road markers and others – from different angles
all road closures, roadworks, road markers and others – from different angles
driver’s licences, ID documents, passports or other identity or business cards of all drivers, passengers and witnesses, as far as possible
What you must not do or say:
- Do not admit guilt and do not offer any payment because this could be seen as bribery.
- Do not say that you will pay for the damage or that your insurance will pay for it – this can be seen as an admission of guilt. Also do not agree to settle the matter without the help of an attorney.
- Do not refuse medical assistance. It may affect the investigation and authorisation of your claim.
- Avoid anything with alcohol (for the shock) unless a doctor recommends it. It may have a negative effect your credibility and make it difficult to prove that you did not drive under the influence of alcohol.
A few other things to keep in mind:
- If the police do not show up, you have to report the accident at a police station within 24 hours. It is a legal requirement where people or animals are injured or other people’s property is damaged. Make sure that you write down the case number and that you take photos of the completed report. This could also help you later on in the process with a possible claim on a responsible third party.
- If you have been injured and cannot report the accident within this period, you must do it as soon as possible and explain why you could not do it sooner.
- Make sure that your car is still safe if you may leave the scene. Will you be able to drive it safely to your home?
- If you are not quite sure – call your insurer’s emergency number and ask for towing assistance. Make sure that you know how to identify the towing service you have to use.
- If you do not have towing cover with your insurance company, you have to use a towing service affiliated with SATRA (South African Towing and Recovery), or UTASA (United Towing Association of South Africa). Make a note of their contact details and remove all valuable contact possessions from your vehicle. Make sure you understand the towing as well as the storage costs.
- Make a note of the name, contact details and vehicle registration number and find out where your vehicle is being taken to.
- Immediately notify your insurer of the accident. Share all the information and photos that you could collect at the scene to set the process moving as fast and painless as possible.
Handy to know
When two vehicles are involved in an accident and nobody is injured, the drivers may decide that each pays for his own repairs. The police need not be called out to the scene of such an accident, but it still has to be reported at a police station by both drivers within two hours.