It's your worst nightmare – you've crashed. It may be minor or serious, but at least you're able to step out of the car. But now what? With December being a month in which crashes are always in the spotlight, we've compiled this handy step-by-step guide, which you can print or save on your phone as a reference. And remember, there will be a lot on your mind after the crash, so consider downloading the AA's free Accident Assist app which will guide you through the process of dealing with the crash scene and recording all the information you need to make your police report and submit an insurance claim. Visit www.aaaccident.co.za for more information.
Remember that you are obliged by law to stop after being involved in a crash where anyone is killed or injured, or any property damage occurs. This also applies to crashes involving animals, which includes dogs.
Step 1 – keep safe
Surviving a crash doesn't mean the danger's over. Other drivers might not see the scene in time, especially at night. Before you or your passengers step out of the vehicle, check it's safe to do so. Round up injured or bewildered occupants and shepherd them to safety, somewhere off the road if possible. Once this is done, alert approaching motorists to the danger in the safest way you can.
Criminals are a frequent threat at crash scenes, so gather up essentials like cellphones to safeguard against theft and so you can call for help or access the AA Accident Assist app. Advise others at the scene to keep a look out for potential criminal activity.
Step 2 – call for help
If you don't know the specific emergency number for the area you're in, dial 112 on your mobile phone. This number works on any GSM phone, even one without a SIM card installed. You will automatically be routed to the emergency services in the area.
Step 3 – help the injured
With the emergency services now on their way, render whatever assistance you can while you wait. Medical assistance in the first hour after injury improves chances of survival and recovery, but avoid trying to provide assistance beyond your capabilities. If someone is trapped in a vehicle or has severe injuries, especially those which involve the back or neck, you should not attempt to move them unless there is an immediate threat to their life such as the vehicle bursting into flames or slipping into water, which fortunately only happens in a minority of cases.
Concentrate on keeping the injured comfortable and safe until professional medical help arrives, such as by placing blankets over them and supplying a drink of water.
Step 4 – don't compromise your legal position
Anything you say or do at the scene might eventually come up in a court case. Even if you were at fault, do not admit it or make apologies which might be used as an admission of guilt. Make no comment on the circumstances of the crash, and do not enter into any argument or disagreement with other motorists. It is enough to say: "Let's leave this to the police and our insurance companies."
It is sensible to activate the sound recorder on your cellphone immediately after the crash and leave it running throughout, so that there is a voice record which you can use to support your actions later. Other motorists may well admit fault or apologise to you, or make statements which support your position.
Step 5 – record the scene and circumstances
When you take photographs of the scene, remember to include a wide view as well as the details of where vehicles came to rest.
When someone has been killed or injured in a crash, you may not move the vehicles except where the vehicle is completely blocking the road, or with the permission of a traffic officer. If you move a vehicle to allow other traffic to pass, the law requires you to mark its position on the road before doing so. This can be done with a piece of chalk or a crayon, which you should always carry in your vehicle along with a pen and paper for making notes after a crash. Where more than one crashed vehicle is obstructing the road, take photographs of the position of each vehicle before you move it, in case questions arise later over which vehicle came to rest where.
If a vehicle involved in the crash did not stop - or left the scene prematurely - record a detailed description of the vehicle, including type, colour and any other information you can remember.
Including landmarks in your photos, such as a tree, a road marking, or a road sign, makes it easier for you to recall the exact layout of the scene when you make your report to the police and your insurers. Don't forget to take photos of skidmarks left by vehicles before the crash, and the locations of initial impacts if a crash involved more than one impact. A full, comprehensive record of the crash scene will be invaluable in any subsequent investigation by your insurer or the authorities.
Record street names and use the geolocation feature on your cellphone to pinpoint your position. If the crash has occurred on a rural road or between two similar-looking intersections, it can be difficult to recall the exact location if you haven't documented it carefully. Make a rough sketch of the scene as a backup to your photographs.
Don't forget to record the time of day – drivers quite often can't recall the exact time of the crash, so make a note of it in case it becomes an issue later.
Step 6 – record the vehicles and their drivers
Ensure your photographs include the licence discs of each vehicle and their registration plates. Record the make, model and colour of each vehicle, too. Clear photographs of each side of each driver's licence will ensure you record the drivers' details accurately, especially their licence number and ID number. If a driver doesn't have their licence with them, ask for their ID document and, failing that, for other proof of identity. Where the driver cannot be traced afterwards, the insurer may not be able to recover your excess.
Ensure you have each driver's name, surname, residential address and phone number. Ask all drivers involved whether they are the owners of the vehicle – if not, you should ask for the contact details of the vehicle's owner too. Also ask for details of each vehicle's insurer. The more information you have, the better.
Step 7 – look for witnesses
If there are bystanders, ask if they saw the crash. If so, obtain their name and contact numbers so that the police can take witness statements if needed. It is also advisable to have a witness who can testify that you marked the position of any vehicle you moved correctly – if someone is able to record a video of you marking the position of a vehicle and moving it, keep the video as further proof that you acted according to the law.
Step 8 – deal with other issues
With the details properly documented, contact your insurance provider to arrange for your vehicle to be towed. Ensure that you use a towing service affiliated and authorised by your insurance provider to avoid paying for the tow and possible storage. Your insurance provider may be able to assist with alternative transport if you have selected this option for your policy.
Step 9 – report the crash to the police
You are required by law to report any crash within 24 hours, although in cases where you are injured in the crash and unable to comply with this, the law allows you to report the crash 'as soon as is reasonably practicable'. Traffic officers will often complete an official Accident Report (AR) form at the scene. If not, go to any police station to complete your AR form. Remember to take the details of the other drivers with you – you will need to record them on the form.
Once you've done all of the above, you can leave the matter in the hands of the police and your insurers who will contact you if further information is needed. If you are contacted by other drivers, vehicle occupants or people who witnessed the crash, refer them to your insurers – do not say or do anything which could compromise your position.
However the crash may lead to legal action against you, and if you are notified that legal proceedings are under way, it's time to speak to an attorney. This brings us to the final point: keep all your documentation and records of the crash in a safe place so that you are in a position to defend yourself if legal action arises in the future.