In the unfortunate event that we are involved in a road traffic accident it is important to be aware that the actions we do, or do not, take in the immediate aftermath could be the difference between finding ourselves before a court facing a motor prosecution or not.
In this article we address some of the most common questions motorists raise following a road traffic accident.
It was only a minor bump, do I need to stop?
Yes. The legal obligations to stop arises following any accident. An accident is defined as any damage or injury being caused to another person or their property. An accident does not need to cause significant or serious damage or injury for the obligations to stop and/or report to arise.
Even in the case of a minor bump, a driver really needs to stop to find out if there has been any damage or injury.
I’ve stopped but what do I do next?
A driver must stop and, if required to do so by any person having “reasonable grounds”, give their name and address, and, also, if different, the name and address of the owner and the identification marks of the vehicle.
I think I hit a parked car, I stopped but there was no one there, is there anything more I need to do?
Yes! If a driver cannot give their name and address for any reason then they are required to report the accident to the police. There is a duty to report the accident in person at the police station as soon as is practicable. There is a maximum time limit of 24 hours but it is important to note that a driver is required to report as soon as possible.
I left a note on the windscreen following an accident as there was no one there, I don’t need to do anything else, do I?
Whilst there is nothing wrong with leaving a note, and this is a sensible idea if you have collided with an unattended vehicle, drivers should be aware that leaving a note does not guarantee compliance with the law. The law requires a driver to stop and exchange details at the scene and, if they cannot, then to report the accident at the police station. Leaving a note does not guarantee that it is received by the other party, and, it might not contain all the information necessary. Therefore, in the case of a collision with an unattended vehicle it is always better to report to the Police to avoid the risk that you fail to comply with the law.
This all seems a bit over the top, is it really necessary?
Yes, it is really important. The offences of failing to stop and/or report an accident can occur in circumstances which are not overly serious (a minor scrape with an unattended vehicle), however, they can also occur in circumstances amounting to ‘hit and runs’ whereby a pedestrian may have been left with serious injuries. Therefore, the sentencing options available for a Court to deal with the offences are tough and include up to 6 months imprisonment, a fine, 5 to 10 penalty points or an immediate disqualification from driving.
I’ve been told that I hit someone’s car but I had no idea at the time, am I guilty of failing to stop/report?
Not necessarily. A driver must have knowledge that either damage or injury was caused to be guilty of an offence. If a driver was genuinely unaware that an accident occurred, and, if a Court accepted that was the case, then they would have a defence to the allegations.
It should be noted that a driver would not necessarily escape any punishment in this scenario. They could still be prosecuted for an offence of careless driving in connection with the accident itself.
Although a driver may raise that they had no knowledge of an accident having occurred, they might not necessarily be believed. For example, whilst the court may accept that a driver was unaware of a very slight scrape or coming together, in the case of a more serious bump causing significant damage, it will be difficult for a Court to accept that a driver would not be aware of this happening.
I did stop at the time but couldn’t see any damage. I’ve found some now, what do I do?
If you become aware of damage having been caused as a result of an earlier accident then you are required to report this as soon as possible upon discovery. If you failed to do so then this would amount to an offence of failing to report.
Help! My circumstances are not covered above?
In the event that you require assistance in relation to a potential motor prosecution please contact our motor prosecution expert, David Ollivere, for further advice.