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 you should do if you find yourself in this unfortunate situation, 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 you should do if you find yourself in this unfortunate situation, as well as all the information your car insurance provider will need to know.

Written by
Rebecca Goodman
Insurance expert
Last Updated
7 min read
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Your immediate steps after an accident

  1. Stop safely as soon as you can and switch off the engine. If you fail to stop after an accident, you could be charged with leaving the scene of an accident, more commonly known as hit and run.
  2. Turn on your hazard lights to alert other drivers that there could be an obstruction or debris on the road.
  3. Check that you and your passengers are 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’s hurt or vehicles are blocking the road, use 999 to call the police and an ambulance immediately. If you don’t need immediate help, you can call the police on 101 to report the accident.
  5. Speak to any other drivers involved in the accident and exchange details. Don’t apologise for the accident or admit fault – it’s up to the police and your respective 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. Speak to any passengers or witnesses who saw the accident and ask for their details.
  7. Take photos of the damage to your car and any injuries sustained by you or your passengers. 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’re able. Even if the accident was minor, failing to notify your car insurance provider of an accident could invalidate your policy.

What details to exchange after an accident

If another vehicle has been involved, you’ll need to exchange details. Make sure you provide your own details to anyone involved and note the following:

  • The registration of the other vehicle (or vehicles) and, ideally, the 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 (or drivers) involved. If the other driver doesn’t have insurance, you must notify 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 involved is the registered owner of the vehicle involved in the accident.

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

If you’ve hit a parked vehicle 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 instead. Remember, it’s better to be honest – if you don’t stop and someone saw you and reports you to the police, you could be charged with failing to stop after an accident.

Car accidents can be stressful and scary, especially if people have been injured. However, it’s important to try and stay as calm as possible. You’ll want to make sure that everyone is okay as a priority, but you’ll also need to collect some details to make an insurance claim. While your insurance claim isn’t going to be the first thing on your mind, you’ll need certain details in order to make a claim. Keep a list like ours handy so you can check you have everything you need.

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

It’s a good idea to take photos of the accident scene and any injuries sustained – they’ll help to back up your insurance claim and could also jog your memory if you forget any details.

Things can happen very quickly and you probably won’t be able to remember every detail. Therefore, taking notes on your phone (or a pen and paper), taking photos and getting contact details for any witnesses is vital.

You could also make a sketch to illustrate the position of the cars involved. Note down the driving conditions at the time of the crash, including anything unusual you notice about the condition of the road, the lighting in the area and the weather at the time of the crash.

Report the accident to the police

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

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

  • Anyone has been injured in the accident (ask for an ambulance too, if necessary)
  • There are vehicles or debris blocking the road
  • Any of other drivers involved in the accident are uninsured
  • You think any of the other drivers are driving without a valid driving licence
  • You believe any of the other drivers are under the influence of drugs or alcohol
  • Any of the drivers involved try to leave the scene without giving their details
  • Any of the drivers involved are being aggressive and 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 insurer won’t be your first priority, especially if there has been an accident and people are hurt. But once you and anyone affected is safe and well, you should focus on sorting your insurance.

You should tell your insurance provider about your accident (even if you don’t want to make a claim) within a reasonable amount of time. The definition of ‘reasonable’ differs among insurance providers but will be set out in your policy documents – it can vary between two days to a couple of weeks. If you don’t report the accident within the stated time, it could invalidate any claim you make following the incident. Find out how accidents affect your car insurance.

There’s no point in delaying telling your insurer and if you leave it too late you might not be able to make a claim at all.

You should always speak to your insurance provider before having your car repaired. They might want you to use an approved garage, so taking your car to the garage down the road may invalidate your claim. Depending on your policy, you may or may not be given a courtesy car.

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

Get a good deal on your car insurance

If you drive a car, then 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 that 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, regardless of whose fault the accident was or how much damage has been done, failing to stop after a car accident and provide your details is an offence under the Road Traffic Act, if any of the following conditions are true:

  • Someone has been injured
  • A vehicle or property has been damaged
  • You hit certain animals including dogs and farm animals
  • You cause damage to any 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 get 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 provide to 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 vehicle registration numbers of the cars involved
  • The other driver’s car insurance details.

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

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

If you or any of your passengers have a serious injury you should call an ambulance or head to A&E as soon as possible. If you have a minor injury or you’re feeling any pain, it’s a good idea to visit your GP to check that there isn’t a more serious internal injury. Bear in mind that the symptoms of common car crash injuries like whiplash could take several hours to appear. If you’re making a claim, remember to get a copy of any medical reports to submit to your insurance provider.

What are crash for cash scams?

In a crash for cash scam, a driver intentionally causes a crash so they can make a fraudulent insurance claim. They could do this, for example, by braking suddenly and forcing you to rear-end them, or flashing their lights at you at a junction to signal you’re free to go and then purposefully crashing into you.

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

You could 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 extra 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 extra care when merging at junctions and roundabouts
  • Installing a dash cam to record any incidents.

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