Being involved in a road accident is something that all drivers dread, but despite our best efforts to try and avoid them, they’re still a common occurrence on our roads. In fact, our research shows that drivers in Great Britain are involved in nearly 346 accidents each day.
To help you understand what you need to do in the crucial moments post-accident, or if you’re driving and see the aftermath of one, we’ve put together a list of some of the fines you could be subjected to if you do the wrong thing – or nothing at all.
Following the UK Highway Code after a road accident
The Highway Code outlines lots of rules concerning safe driving behaviours after coming across an accident on the road. Let’s take a look at some of the things you should, or shouldn’t, be doing in this situation.
Leaving enough space and safely stopping after witnessing a collision
Highway Code Rule: 126
Minimum penalty: For careless driving – 3 penalty points, £100 fine
After witnessing an incident ahead of you on the road, you may need to bring your vehicle to a stop. In order to do this safely, it’s incredibly important to leave a minimum two-second gap between you and the driver ahead of you on high-speed roads and in tunnels. You should double this distance when driving on wet roads, and leave ten times more distance when it’s icy. By following this guidance, if you witness a collision, or happen to be behind other vehicles that are involved in a road accident, you will have enough time and space to stop safely and avoid causing another collision.
Not only is tailgating an intimidating and dangerous practice, but careless driving offences such as this are punishable by law. Official advice recommends you use a fixed point on the road such as a sign or lamp post to measure out the two-second gap.
Using hazard warning lights in car effectively
Highway Code Rule: 116
If you just witnessed or happen to come across an accident on your journey, it’s a good idea to turn your hazard lights on to temporarily warn other drivers behind you of a hazard or obstruction ahead.
However, the Highway Code clearly states that you should only use them long enough to ensure your warning has been observed, and to not use them while driving for any other reason besides warning other road users of upcoming hazards. It’s important to note that the Highway Code only permits drivers to use hazard lights in this way on motorways and unrestricted dual carriageways.
Reversing in a one-way street
Highway Code Rule: 203
There may be occasions where a car breaks down ahead of you on a one-way street, so there is no way around the stationary vehicle. In cases like this, motorists should only reverse on a one-way road if absolutely necessary, and you should never reverse further than needed to get your journey back on track.
Using your mobile phone to call emergency services unsafely while driving
Highway Code Rule: 149
Minimum penalty: £200 fine and 6 penalty points. If you’re taken to court you could get a £1,000 fine (£2,500 for PCV or goods vehicle) or a driving ban.
It’s illegal to use any handheld device, like a mobile phone or tablet, whilst behind the wheel in a moving vehicle. However, the Highway Code permits motorists to call the emergency services whilst driving when it's genuinely unsafe or impractical to stop. If possible, you should always try to pull over and park somewhere safe before you dial 999 or 112.
Follow police signals when approaching an accident
Highway Code Rule: 282
Penalty: 3 penalty points, £100 fine
When approaching an accident, you should always remain alert and avoid slowing down unnecessarily to get a look at the aftermath of the collision –- a momentary lapse in focus could be enough to cause another incident. Instead, focus on the road ahead, keep an eye out for debris or slow-moving traffic, and always follow the police signals if they’re already on the scene. Ignoring an officer’s directions is an offence and you could be fined £100 and given three penalty points.
Common causes of road traffic accidents
As learner drivers, we’re regularly reminded of the good habits that will help us to become safe, conscientious drivers. However, as people gain more experience on the road, it’s all too easy to let these good habits slip. Falling into dangerous practices puts the safety of every road user at risk, not just the people in your own vehicle. Below, we’ve listed some of the most common driving offences that can cause an accident, along with the minimum potential penalties attached to them.
Failing to comply with traffic signs
Endorsement code: TS50
Penalty: 3 penalty points, £100 fine
Traffic signs are there to keep us safe, so ignoring their instructions comes with severe consequences. Even if you’ve just watched an accident take place and are feeling a little panicked – or nosey – be sure to pay attention to any signs nearby or you could be given three penalty points, which will stay on your record for four years.
When driving on a smart motorway, you may see a red ‘X’ displayed on the overhead signs. This indicates the lane is closed to traffic, usually due to a breakdown or accident, and cars mustn’t use it. Ignoring this signal could see drivers handed three penalty points and a £100 fine.
Failing to comply with traffic light signals
Endorsement code: TS10
Minimum penalty: 3 penalty points, £100 fine
Just as with traffic signs, there are no excuses for not complying with traffic light signals, even in the moments of panic after witnessing a collision. The penalty for running a red light doesn’t end at three penalty points – you could also be fined £100. Remember, an amber light indicates that you should stop only if it’s safe to do so. If you are already past the line – or so close to it that braking could result in a collision – when an amber light shows, you shouldn’t attempt to stop your vehicle.
Failing to comply with double white lines
Endorsement code: TS20
Penalty: 3 penalty points
Be sure to always comply with the road markings, such as double white lines, even if you’re keen to make way for other road users. Double white lines – where the line closest to you is broken – indicate you can overtake where it’s safe and there’s enough space to complete the manoeuvre. But if the line nearest to you is solid, don’t cross or straddle it unless it’s safe and you need to turn off onto a side road or premises.
You can only overtake a stationary vehicle, or a bike, horse, or road maintenance vehicle travelling at 10 mph or less if there are solid double white lines.
Stopping in a yellow box junction
Highway Code Rule: 174
Penalty: £80 - £160
Box junctions are crossings with yellow hatched lines in them; under normal circumstances, you should wait until your exit road or lane is clear to drive into them. But if you’re turning right and your way is blocked by oncoming traffic or other cars waiting to turn right, you are permitted to move forward and wait inside the box markings.
If the box is at a signalled roundabout, wait until you can cross all the way over without stopping before driving into the box.
Using or stopping in a bus lane where it’s not permitted
Highway Code Rule: 141
Penalty: £30 - £70 outside of London, £80 - £160 inside of London
Unless the road markings or signs say otherwise you should never drive or stop in a bus lane. If you need to pull into one to let emergency vehicles through, you may do so, but as soon as they have passed, you must move back into your lane. And if you need to stop to call the emergency services or for any other reason, you should pull over in a safe spot where you won’t obstruct other road users.
The penalty for this offence depends on where you are. If you’re outside of London you can expect to have to pay between £30 and £70 but the fine is more severe for drivers in London at £80 to £160.
|● Do: use bus lanes freely outside of operational hours
● Do: use bus lanes to give way to emergency vehicles or avoid an incident, but leave as soon as it’s safe to do so
● Don’t: use bus lanes when no timeframe is signalled on the blue sign – these will be operational 24 hours a day
Highway Code Rule: 124
Minimum penalty: 3 penalty points, £100 fine
Speeding is one of the leading causes of road traffic accidents around the world, and is often a major contributing factor in the severity of any incident. Not only can it intimidate other drivers, but ignoring speed limits puts yourself and other road users at greater risk of a collision.
It’s important to remember that the limit on any given road is the maximum speed you should ever be travelling at. However, these signs don’t necessarily mean it will always be safe to drive at that speed. You should always take the external conditions into account, and adjust your speed accordingly. For instance, wet or misty conditions can affect reaction times, and the faster you go, the less time you’ll have to respond to a situation.
What should I do if I’m involved in a road traffic accident?
If you do happen to be involved in an accident yourself, here’s some guidance on what to do to avoid penalties.
- Pull over safely and stop
If you need to stop your vehicle because of a breakdown or incident, try to stop in a safe place where you, your passengers and your car are less likely to be at risk from moving traffic. Look for a parking spot, a service area, lay-by or emergency areas. Hard shoulders are okay but they’re less likely to offer the same level of protection because of how close they are to fast-moving traffic.
- Move away from the vehicle and call the emergency services
If you’re able to, you, and anyone else you’re travelling with should move away from the car and moving traffic. This’ll keep you out of harm's way if another vehicle collides with yours and shunts it forward. Put your hazard lights on to warn oncoming traffic, switch off your engine, and put on any high-visibility clothing you have with you. If you can’t pull over to the left lane or into a safe stopping space and can’t safely exit your vehicle, stay where you are with your seatbelts and hazard lights on.
Now it’s time to call the emergency services – you can use your mobile phone, an emergency telephone, or press the SOS button in your car if it has one. Remember, unless you feel they are in immediate danger, you should never attempt to move an injured person out of a vehicle as this could cause additional injury and pain. Wait for the emergency services to arrive and manage the situation.
- Share your name, address, and vehicle registration
If the incident caused damage or harm to any other person, vehicle, animal or property, you need to give yours and the vehicle owner’s name and address, as well as the vehicle’s registration number to anyone who needs them.
If you forget or are unable to do so at the time of the collision, give these details to the police as soon as you can within 24 hours.
- Show the police your insurance certificate
If someone was injured in the accident, the police will ask to see an insurance certificate. If you can’t produce this at the scene of the incident, make sure you do as soon as you can within the next seven days. If not, you could be handed a £5,000 fine and have eight penalty points added to your licence.
Being involved in a road collision can be very distressing, whether it’s just a little bump or something more significant. However, it’s vital that drivers report all accidents to their insurance provider, or they could refuse to honour the policy.
When driving by or approaching a collision, your instinct might be to slow down to see what happened, but it’s important that motorists stay focused and keep their eyes on the road. Getting distracted and not following the rules of the road properly can not only lead to hefty fines but can impact the safety of other road users.
Summary of the potential penalties
Below is a table detailing the maximum penalties for some of the most common driving offences related to accidents. When a driver accumulates 12 or more points on their licence during a three-year period, they face automatic disqualification for at least six months.
|Offence||Maximum penalty||Penalty points|
|Careless and inconsiderate driving||Unlimited fine||3 to 9|
|Using a handheld mobile device while driving||£1,000 fine (£2,500 for PCV or goods vehicle)||6|
|Failing to stop after an accident or failing to report an accident||6 months’ imprisonment/ unlimited fine||5 to 10|
|Traffic light offences||£1,000 fine||3|
|Speeding||£1,000 fine (£2,500 for motorway offences)||3 to 6|
|Dangerous driving||2 years’ imprisonment/unlimited fine||3 to 11|