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Crash! In the event of a road accident, the AA has you covered

SA Stats - Did You Know?

  • Less than 54% of front-seat occupants wear seat belts in SA
  • Less than eight percent of rear-seat occupants wear seat belts in SA
  • SA has about 900 000 vehicle collisions every year

AA Tips

  • Always wear your seat belt
  • Children should always be seated in an approved and suitable child restraint
  • The combination of seat belts and air bags dramatically decreases the risk of serious injury or even death in the event of a car crash

Periodic reports in the media have highlighted the high accident statistics in South Africa and, along with these, reports of extortion and unscrupulous practices compromising motorists involved in road accidents. This has prompted the AA to examine the situation and advise our Members on what to avoid and what to do if you are unfortunate enough to have a vehicle collision.

The article contains valuable information relating to your rights at an accident scene and advice to help you in an emergency situation of this kind, including:

  • How the AA can help you
  • Recording vital information about the collision
  • Dangers and scams at accident scenes
  • Dos and don'ts at an accident scene
  • How to handle injuries
  • Other practical advice, such as what you should know before taking a tow

The South African accident context

Approximately 14 500 people died in road accidents last year. Take a look at these Stats, facts and figures so you know what SA motorists are up against. 'While no accurate accident data exists, it is estimated that of the 900 000 accidents reported to the South African Police Service in 2008, at least 150 000 people were injured - of these about 60 000 required hospitalisation,' says  the AASA. 'Approximately 14 500 people died in road accidents last year. The estimated cost of all vehicle crashes to the South African economy in 2008 was R56 billion, representing 3.5% of GDP. By comparison, the cost of crashes in developed countries at 1% of GDP is considerably lower,' he adds.

Here are some more sobering facts:

Crash stats

In a crash where a person becomes either a quadriplegic or paraplegic, the direct hospitalisation and rehabilitation costs in the first few months will easily exceed R1 million. That same person will require a further minimum of R500 000 every year just to maintain a semblance of quality of life. Every day 22 people sustain serious injuries in crashes that leave them permanently disabled.

We're at fault

Almost 85% of crashes are as a result of human error (or more accurately, by the road user breaking a traffic law). For example, a pedestrian crossing a busy motorway, a driver overtaking on a solid barrier line or driving under the influence of alcohol.

Other factors

Ten percent of crashes can be attributed to poor road conditions. This is because many of the provincial roads in South Africa have deteriorated over the past few years. According to the AA Road Maintenance and Funding Report (2008), most provincial roads deteriorated from a 'good to fair' condition to a 'poor or very poor' state over the past 10 years. The maintenance backlog for our roads has been conservatively estimated at R100 billion.

Global picture

In developed countries where roads are in good condition, less than five percent of crashes are caused by poor road conditions.

Reality check

It is believed that about five percent of all crashes are because of unroadworthy vehicles and mechanical failure, but in the absence of credible data this percentage could be higher. The average age of cars on South African roads is 11 years while the average age of Accident Towing trucks and buses is 20 years! The absence of periodic vehicle testing makes these older vehicles more likely to be unroadworthy and perhaps more susceptible to critical safety component failure being the cause of a crash.

The big issue

One of the biggest problems in South Africa (where more and more people are buying cars), is the competency of motorists. There are almost eight million licensed drivers, most of whom have had very little training. Inexperience certainly plays a major role in the number of crashes recorded each year.

Taking action

The AA is actively involved in numerous road safety initiatives, including the International Make Roads Safe: Decade of Road Safety campaign, which aims to reduce global road fatalities by 50% over the next decade. The SA government is a signatory to the campaign and we will be working with government in our efforts to attain the 50% goal by advocating changes to relevant legislation and looking for solutions to known problems in road safety. Some of the legislative amendments we are lobbying to change are the seat-belt laws regarding children, compulsory daytime running lights for public and commercial vehicles and reducing the blood-alcohol limit to zero.

Before you take a tow: Here's what you need to know

Because towing rates are not regulated in South Africa, motorists should be aware of the following:

  • Accident tow rates are higher than mechanical breakdown towing rates and are charged for any insurable risk where damage has been caused to the vehicle, either due to criminal activity or an accident. Quotes can range from R1,000 to more than R5,000 for an urban accident tow irrespective of distance, which could be two blocks or 20 km.
  • Be aware of the additional charges that can be added to your towing bill. Storage fees at a tower’s yard are charged on a daily basis and can mount up quickly at over R100 per day. Additional charges are sometimes reflected as recovery costs, administration costs, security costs or with some other label that you could find difficult to challenge. Your R2,000 tow could soon end up at R6,000 and growing.
  • Beware the tower who offers you a free tow. No one works for free and the costs will be passed on to you in some form at a later stage, and at a rate you did not negotiate.

Not all towing operators are unscrupulous

While it is true that there are many unprincipled tow truck drivers out there, many towing operators do still offer a valuable service. To avoid unreliable operators, be aware of some of the ways in which you can be fooled at a time when you are angry, disoriented and not thinking clearly.

You can avoid a bad situation by taking note of the following:

  • Tow truck drivers are often paid on an incentive basis and therefore will want to persuade you to allow them to tow your vehicle.
  • Tow truck drivers might have an affiliation to a panel beater(s) which could influence their behaviour in relation to the towing destination, despite your clear instructions in this regard.
  • Ensure that you receive a towing slip; this is a receipt for your vehicle. When signing a towing slip ensure your vehicle details are filled in correctly. Check that the tow destination is filled in with the address you want your vehicle taken to. Make very sure that the agreed-upon towing rates are filled in. Ensure that the tow truck driver’s name, company and tow truck registration details appear legibly on the towing slip. Look out for the tow truck driver’s signature on the towing slip - it must be there.
  • Remove all valuables from your vehicle before towing - don't forget items in your boot such as laptops and smaller items such as sunglasses and CDs.
  • Ensure that non-removable items and accessories such as CD shuttles and expensive mag wheels are listed on the tow slip. Also include the make of the tyres and spare wheel.
  • Do not let anyone call your service provider or insurer on your behalf. You won't know if the person on the other end of the line, authorising your tow, is legitimately from your insurer or service provider unless you make that call yourself. Therefore, ensure that you have the relevant numbers on you or in your vehicle.
  • You might be told that the AA does not do accident towing or that the towing company on the scene is affiliated to the AA. The AA does do accident towing using its own AA-branded yellow tow trucks and selected towing contractors. Only if the AA Emergency Call Centre verifies the tower as an AA accredited contractor and only if the tow truck driver can quote the case number provided to you by the AA call centre, should this be accepted.
  • You might be presented with official-looking documentation detailing brands, including the AA’s, to which the towing company is supposedly affiliated. Do not be swayed – make your own call to your service provider or insurer.
  • Wild stories have surfaced of tow truck drivers using cellphone jammers at accident scenes, being in possession of police radios and creating road conditions to promote accidents. Whether these allegations are true or not, be vigilant. If you are suspicious of any activity of this nature, report it to the authorities.

As an AA Member you can simply phone the AA

We will arrange the accident tow for you. If you are insured, the AA call centre will connect you with your insurer in a three-way conference call (we will stay on the line) so that you get the correct authorisation for your tow, to ensure that you comply with your insurer's requirements and that your costs are covered by your insurer.

Don't get hitched: Always be prepared

You are not obliged to accept a tow from any towing company that arrives on the scene. The traffic officers attending the scene of an accident have a duty to keep traffic flowing as best they can under the circumstances, but are not permitted to dictate to you which towing service you should use.

The National Road Traffic Act 93 of 1996 and the National Road Traffic Regulations published in Government Notice No R.225 of 17 March 2000 stipulate the regulatory requirements for the towing of vehicles. The act states that '...no person shall remove a vehicle involved in an accident, except for the purpose of sufficiently allowing the passage of traffic, without the permission of the owner, driver or operator of such vehicle or a person who may lawfully take possession of such vehicle.'

This Act empowers a traffic officer to have your car moved off the road if it is obstructing the flow of traffic. Be careful to select the correct service provider as, once hooked, there have been reported cases where the tow truck driver then refuses to unhitch the vehicle and when denied the onward tow, demands the full price of an accident tow for the five metres the car was moved to the side of the road.

Traffic officers have a duty to keep traffic flowing, but are not permitted to dictate to you which towing service you should use.

The do's and don'ts at an accident scene - Suggestions to protect your interests

  • Do not admit liability
  • Do not sign any documents presented to you
  • Report the accident to the nearest police station within 24 hours and obtain an accident reference number
  • Do not take any intoxicating liquor or drugs, especially if you are injured or in shock, unless you are instructed to do so by a medical practitioner
  • Take down as many details as suggested under the Collision Report section of this article
  • Complete the towing slip diligently

AA 'Do Not Tow' decal

The AA issues a 'Do Not Tow' decal which should be displayed on your windscreen or driver's window. It carries the AA Emergency Call Centre number to be dialled in the event of an accident. It is also an expression of your wishes when you may be unable to communicate to the people attending to the accident. It states that your vehicle may not be towed unless the tow is arranged by the AA. Ask for one at our Travel Experience stores (see page 98 for details) or call 083 THE AA (083 843 22).

Just call the AA when others let you down, the AA stands by you

AA contractor's code of conduct

The AA has contracted with a number of reputable towing contractors around the country. The relationship and service rendered to AA Members is governed by a service level agreement and a code of conduct. Towing rates are agreed and where towing is free to the AA Member, the AA is billed directly. When the costs for towing are for the Member's account, the AA can monitor the fees to ensure fairness.

AA at your service

The AA has all the knowledge, experience and, most importantly, the credibility to become your trusted ally when an accident occurs. Through its 24-hour call centre, the AA can arrange everything for you, including:

  • Emergency medical services
  • Recovery of your vehicle and delivery to your chosen destination or an AA Quality Assured repairer
  • Safe storage of your vehicle, if necessary
  • Message relay service
  • Arranging replacement car hire if needed
  • Arranging accommodation if needed
  • Free legal advice and referral to an attorney in cases where litigation may be involved

Collision report: Recording vital information

At the accident scene

Obtain all the information you can to complete a concise collision report if required by your insurer or for legal purposes. Include:

  • Names, telephone numbers, physical and postal addresses as well as identity numbers of those involved in the accident, including anyone injured in the collision
  • Names, telephone and identity numbers of witnesses
  • Name of the owner of the vehicle. If it is a company owned vehicle, record the company's contact details
  • Names of passengers involved and their contact details
  • Vehicle information of any vehicles involved in the accident (registration number, licence disc details, colour, make and model) and the nature and extent of the damage
  • Details of the other party's insurers
  • Details of damage to any other property
  • If a traffic officer is present, note his or her name, rank, staff number and station
  • The particulars of the other driver's employer, if applicable
  • Date and time of the accident and physical location
  • Road conditions at the time of the accident. For example, was the road surface wet?
  • If possible, take photographs of the accident scene ensuring that all four sides of the vehicles, including your own, are captured to show the extent of any damage (use your cellphone if it has a camera function)
  • If possible, make a sketch of the accident scene, recording the positions of the vehicles relative to your own and any other landmarks in the immediate vicinity
  • Record the name of the tow contractor who tows your car

Write it down!

Ask your telephonic adviser or our patrolman to help you fill out our Recording of Vital Accident Information form. It's vital to get it on record...

How to handle injuries: It never hurts to know the facts

After the accident has happened, stop your vehicle immediately and ascertain if anyone is injured. If injuries have occurred, call emergency services immediately and try to make the injured person(s) comfortable. Get the professionals to the scene as soon as possible to increase any injured person's chances of survival. Provide accurate details of the location and type of emergency. Most importantly, if anyone is seriously injured do not move them - unless their lives are at risk, through fire or further injury from other road users. Your best intentions may aggravate the injuries.

AA Mayday Emergency Medical Service

All AA Members have access to the AA Mayday emergency medical service 24 hours a day, just by being an AA Member. That's right - our 24-hour AA Mayday emergency medical service is there for you. And not only for you - your spouse and children under the age of 26 are covered too.

Here's what AA Mayday offers you in the event of an accident:

  • Medical evacuation
  • Guaranteed admission to a medical facility
  • Relocation after treatment
  • Access to trauma counselling
  • Repatriation of mortal remains
  • Free medical advice and assistance
  • Dispatch of emergency medication/blood
  • Travelling companions for stranded minors. These benefits apply to any form of accident even if it is not a road accident.
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