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What to do after a car accident

A car accident – no matter how minor – can be a real shock to the system. To help you keep your cool, we’ve put together a step-by-step guide that explains what to do when in a car accident, as well as all the information your car insurance provider will need to know.

A car accident – no matter how minor – can be a real shock to the system. To help you keep your cool, we’ve put together a step-by-step guide that explains what to do when in a car accident, as well as all the information your car insurance provider will need to know.

Written by
Rebecca Goodman
Insurance expert
Last Updated
26 JULY 2023
6 min read
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What to do after a car accident – immediate steps

  1. Stop safely as soon as you can and switch off the engine. If you don’t stop after an accident, you could be charged with leaving the scene of an accident (more commonly known as a hit and run).
  2. Turn on your hazard lights to let other drivers know there could be an obstruction or debris on the road.
  3. Check everyone is okay. Call an ambulance if anyone needs urgent medical care. Try to stay as calm as possible. Avoid making rushed decisions or scrambling out of the car without knowing what’s happening around you – you could cause more harm.
  4. Get out of the car carefully and look around. If someone is hurt, or there are vehicles blocking the road, use 999 to call the police and an ambulance. If you don’t need immediate help, call the police on 101 to report the accident.
  5. Speak to any other drivers involved and exchange details. Don’t apologise or admit fault – it’s up to the police and your insurance providers to decide who’s liable. Don’t point the finger, either – getting into a fight with another driver at the side of the road isn’t going to help the situation.
  6. Talk to any passengers or witnesses and ask for their details.
  7. Take photos of any injuries and damage to your car. Make a note of the driving conditions and the time and date of the crash.
  8. Call your insurance provider, either at the scene or as soon as you can. Even if the accident was minor, failing to notify your car insurance provider of an accident could invalidate your policy.

What to do after a car crash when I’m stuck on the hard shoulder

Being stuck on the hard shoulder is both frightening and dangerous, so you’ll need to keep your wits about you. Here’s what to do:

  • Turn on your hazard lights
  • Stop as close as you can to an emergency phone ¬– there’s one every mile or so along the motorway
  • Call the police as soon as possible and tell them your location
  • Always leave your car from the passenger side, away from traffic
  • Leave pets in the car, unless it’s an emergency or unsafe to do so.

What insurance details do I give in an accident in the UK?

If you’re involved in an accident with another car, you’ll need to exchange details. Make sure you give out your own details and note:

  • The other car’s registration, make, model and colour
  • The name, address and phone number of the other driver (or drivers) and any witnesses
  • The driving licence number of anyone involved
  • The insurance details of the other driver(s). If the other driver isn’t insured, you’ll need to tell the police – it’s against the law in the UK to drive without car insurance
  • The time and date of the accident
  • If the other driver is the car’s registered owner.

If the other driver isn’t the registered owner – for example, if it’s a company car, or borrowed from another driver – find out who owns the car and get their contact details.

If you hit a parked car and the owner can’t be identified or you can’t leave your details, dial 101 (the non-emergency police number) and report the incident.

Remember, it’s better to be honest. If you don’t stop and someone reports you to the police, you could be charged with failing to stop after an accident.

Car accidents are stressful and scary, especially if there are injuries. But it’s important to stay as calm as possible. You’ll want to make sure everyone is okay, but you’ll also need to collect the necessary details for your insurance claim.

Your insurance claim may not be uppermost in your mind, so a list like this can help you make sure you have everything you need.

What other details should I record at the scene of a car accident?

Take photos of the accident scene, as well as any injuries. This will back up your insurance claim and could jog your memory if you forget anything.

Things happen quickly and you probably won’t remember every detail. So it’s vital to take notes and photos, along with witness contact details.

You may find it useful to sketch the position of the cars involved. Note down the driving conditions at the time of the crash, including anything unusual about the condition of the road, lighting in the area, and the weather.

Report the accident to the police

All motoring accidents should be reported to the police within 24 hours. If you don’t let them know, you could be fined, given points on your licence, or even disqualified from driving.

You should call the police on 999 at the scene of the accident if:

  • Anyone is injured (ask for an ambulance too, if necessary)
  • There are vehicles or debris blocking the road
  • Any of the other drivers involved are uninsured
  • You suspect another driver doesn’t have a valid licence
  • You believe any of the other drivers are under the influence of drugs or alcohol
  • Other drivers try to leave the scene without giving their details
  • The drivers involved are aggressive or threatening
  • You think another driver deliberately caused the accident (perhaps in a ‘cash-for-crash’ scam, where a driver deliberately causes a crash so that they can make a fraudulent insurance claim).

If you don’t need an emergency response, you can report the incident to the police on the 101 helpline, either at the scene or within 24 hours of the accident.

Contact your insurance provider

Speaking to your insurance provider won’t be the first thing on your list of what to do when in a car accident, especially if people are hurt. But once everyone involved is safe and well, focus on sorting your insurance.

You should tell your insurance provider about the accident (even if you don’t want to make a claim) within a reasonable amount of time. The definition of ‘reasonable’ differs between insurance providers but can be anything between two days to a couple of weeks. Check your policy documents to be sure.

If you don’t report the accident within the stated time, it could invalidate your claim. Find out how accidents affect your car insurance.

There’s no point delaying telling your insurance provider – and if you leave it too late, you might not be able to claim at all.

Always speak to your insurance provider before having your car repaired. They might want you to use an approved garage, so using the one down the road may invalidate your claim. Depending on your policy, you may or may not receive a courtesy car.

If you’re going to make a claim, your insurance provider will talk you through next steps. For more information, read our guide to the claims process.

Get a good deal on your car insurance

If you drive, you’ll need car insurance – there’s no escaping it – but finding the right policy doesn’t need to be hard work. Compare car insurance with us and you can be confident you’re getting a deal that’s right for you.

Frequently asked questions

Do I have to stop after a car accident, even if it wasn’t my fault?

Yes. No matter whose fault it was, or how much damage is done, if you have an accident, you have to stop. Not doing so, or failing to provide your details, is an offence under the Road Traffic Act if:

  • Someone is injured
  • A vehicle or property is damaged
  • You hit certain animals, including dogs and farm animals
  • You damage street signs or bollards.

If you don’t stop, you could be charged with leaving the scene of an accident (known as hit and run). If you’re found guilty in a magistrate’s court, you could receive 5-10 points on your licence, a fine of up to £5,000, and up to six months in prison.

What information will I need to give my insurance provider after an accident?

If you were involved in an accident with another driver (or drivers), you’ll need to tell your insurance provider:

  • Your policy number and details to confirm your identity
  • The name(s) of the other driver(s) involved
  • Their contact details and address
  • The registration numbers of the cars involved
  • The other driver’s car insurance details.

Provide your insurance provider with as much detail as possible about the accident, especially if you’re going to make a claim, or think a claim may be made against you.

Should I see a doctor after being in a car accident?

If you or any of your passengers are seriously injured in a car accident, call an ambulance or head to A&E as soon as possible. If you have a minor injury or feel any pain, it’s a good idea to visit your GP to check there isn’t a more serious internal injury.

Common car crash injuries like whiplash aren’t always immediately apparent. If you’re making a claim, get a copy of any medical reports to send to your insurance provider.

Can I still drive my car after an accident?

Assuming your car is still in fit to drive, you’re free to drive it away after an accident. However, even if there isn’t visible damage, you may want to have it checked out by a mechanic.

Check your insurance documents, as your policy may be invalid if you don’t take it to the garage and then want to make a claim.

What are ‘crash-for-cash’ scams?

In a crash-for-cash scam, a driver intentionally causes an accident so they can make a fraudulent insurance claim. They can do this by braking suddenly and forcing you to rear-end them. Or they might flash their lights at you at a junction to signal you’re free to go, then deliberately crash into you.

If you think you’re a victim of a crash-for-cash scam, you can call the police to the scene. You should also take photos and detailed notes of what happened, as these sorts of scam artists often exaggerate events to maximise their payout.

You can reduce your chances of being targeted by a crash-for-cash scam by:

  • Keeping plenty of distance between you and the car in front
  • Being cautious of anyone driving erratically ¬– for example, braking for no reason – and giving them plenty of space
  • Giving extra room to any vehicle without functioning brake lights
  • Taking care when merging at junctions and roundabouts
  • Installing a dash cam to record any incidents.

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Rebecca Goodman - Insurance expert

Rebecca Goodman is a freelance financial journalist who specialises in insurance, personal finance and consumer affairs. Rebecca regularly writes for national newspapers including The Independent and The Mail on Sunday on a wide-range of financial topics. She covers everything from money-saving tips and holiday advice to investigations into how energy efficient appliances can cut the cost of household bills and the impact donating money can have on those in need. Along with features in national papers, Rebecca also writes news stories for websites including Yourmoney.com and The Money Edit.

Learn more about Rebecca

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