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When a road traffic accident happens – what are the legal requirements?

Being involved in a crash is something all of us as road users dread irrespective of whether we are on two wheels or four. All of us have probably heard stories of riders and drivers who have been involved in a road traffic accident and then complain that the other person involved failed or refused to hand over all the information required, along with their insurance details, despite the fact that nobody was injured.

The reality is that a lot of road users really have little understanding of what the law actually requires of them in the event that they are involved in a crash or road traffic accident.

So, for those of you who are unsure what the position is, here is a little clarification on the legislation and how it affects those involved in a road traffic accident and what the implications can be.

The law on road traffic accidents

The law is actually quite simple. Section 170 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 states:

If owing to the presence of a motor vehicle on a road, injury or damage is caused to a third party or animal, (which for the purpose of the act is defined as any horse, cattle, ass, mule, sheep, pig, goat or dog), then the drivers involved must…

  • Stop
  • Exchange names and addresses of the drivers of the vehicles,
  • Exchange names and addresses of the owners of the vehicle,
  • Exchange details of registration marks, and….
  • In the case of injury, produce a valid certificate of insurance or security to any person with reasonable grounds to so require these details.

If the law is not complied with, then the drivers must report it at a police station or to a police officer, and must do so as soon as is reasonably practicable and, in any case, within 24 hours of the occurrence of the road traffic accident.

So in lay terms what does all this mean?

You might think that the requirement to stop after a road accident is very obvious and common sense.

In most cases this would be the case, but sometimes a driver may not be aware that they have been involved in a crash, for example:

  • A HGV driver whose trailer touches a parked car whilst turning or manoeuvring
  • A motorcyclist brushing against a car whilst filtering unaware that they may have caused a bit of damage, for example knocking a mirror off.
  • If you have hit an animal on a quiet back road it may have been a glancing blow (which has been known to happen with a dog, for example) and you may be none the wiser.

When you stop, even though there may not be anyone around, the law states that you must stop and wait for a reasonable period of time. What is deemed a reasonable period of time is subjective and depends on a number of factors such as time of day, location and so on.

But let’s assume everyone has stopped. It is again reasonable and common sense that you need to know the name of the other driver(s) involved and vice versa, but people assume that the driver’s details also incorporates the owner’s details. The driver may be different to the owner or registered keeper, for example it may be a company or hire car involved.

Identifying the vehicle after a road traffic accident

The registration mark identifies each vehicle, and it is important to record this information carefully and accurately as it could lead to major problems later on, especially if a claim is likely to be made.

In this day and age, with the cloning of registration numbers, we would suggest not only writing down the registration number but also, if you can, taking a picture of the registration plate and vehicle together. It will at least ensure accuracy.

Provision of insurance details after a road accident

And then we come to the bit that people have the biggest problem with, namely the production of insurance details.

The law is quite specific in that it states that a current and valid certificate of insurance or other security need only be produced in the event that injury has occurred and that the parties involved know that there was an injury.

For example, a crash might happen where it is deemed to be a damage only incident, but then a few days later you feel the effects of whiplash. At the time of the crash there was no apparent injury and, therefore, there was no requirement to produce any insurance certificate.

However, in most cases, it will be fairly obvious if someone has been injured and the legislation states that insurance details should be given to anyone with reasonable grounds to so require those details.

So, who may be deemed as a person with ‘reasonable grounds’?

A person is injured and maybe unconscious or not in a position to exchange details. A member of the public offers to accompany the injured person in the ambulance to the hospital and asks the third party driver for insurance details, which they will pass onto the injured party when they get to the hospital. This would be deemed as reasonable grounds to so require the information, but you need to make sure that you also get that person’s name and address so you can prove that you complied with the regulations.

Police involvement in a road traffic accident

The reality is that in a situation such as this the police would in 99 per cent of cases be in attendance and deal with these issues themselves, but it does and can happen from time to time where the police cannot attend for whatever reason and so it is worth bearing this in mind.

The last bit has also caused some confusion as the law states that if you cannot comply with the legal requirements at the time, then you must report it to a constable or at a police station as soon as practicable but in any case within 24 hours.

Many people think that it has to be reported at the police station in whose area the crash occurred. This is not the case.

For example, the road accident could happen in say Hampshire in the south and you may be heading north to maybe Yorkshire on business using only motorways, it may not be practical to go and find a local police station, and so it is regarded as perfectly in order to continue your journey to your end destination and then report it at a local police station, even though it may be hundreds of miles away from where the crash occurred.

The details will simply be recorded and passed onto the police station in the area where the road traffic accident occurred. However, if you pass several police stations on your route to your destination but you ignore them, then you will have failed to comply with the requirements of as the “soon as practicable”.

Contrary to what you may have been told, it is a requirement that you go to your local station in person for the very reason that you will also need to produce your driving documents, hence why you cannot report the crash online or over the phone.

Road Traffic offences

So what are the potential penalties you could be looking at if convicted of the offence of failing to stop after a road traffic accident and/or failing to report an accident?

It can be quite harsh. The courts treat this offence quite seriously and can hand out the following:

  • Terms of up to six months’ imprisonment
  • An unlimited fine
  • A discretionary disqualification
  • Between five and 10 points
  • And this is on top of any other potential driving offences that may have been committed, such as dangerous or careless driving.

So, whilst we would never wish it to happen to anyone, if you are unfortunate to be involved in a road traffic accident, make sure you stop and exchange full details and if you can’t, cover yourself and report it to the police as soon as possible.

Stay safe…

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