10 things to do (and not do) at the scene of a car accident

It’s easy to lose your cool when you’ve been involved in an accident. What should you do? Who should you call? How many more tow truck drivers are going to arrive?! Not to worry - we’ve got a few helpful hints to keep you cool, calm and collected.

It’s a regular day and a regular drive home in the afternoon: music cascading through your speakers, intermittent stops and starts, cars rushing past in the opposite direction. Then in the blink of an eye, your world is invaded by screeching tyres, hooters and a sudden jolt on your seatbelt.

We’d like to think it will never happen to us, but unfortunately accidents are a reality.

Once the dust has settled and the reality of your situation has settled in, there are likely a million questions running through your head. What should you do first? Who should you call? What should you do with your car?

It should come as no surprise that it’s incredibly easy to lose your composure when you’ve been involved in an accident. It’s vitally important, however, to know what your immediate steps should be. Here are a few important tips to remember the next time you find yourself at the center of an accident scene.

1. Stop, stay calm, keep a clear head and take a few deep breaths.

This is the single most important thing you can do. Emotions often run high at the scene of an accident and remaining cool, calm and collected could literally save lives.

2. Stay at the scene, take a look around you and assess the situation.

If there are any injured people on the scene, do not move them. This could put them at even more risk so rather wait until professional help arrives. Get an ambulance on scene as soon as possible. Your insurer’s emergency roadside assist can help with that and should be available 24/7. Remember, do not move your vehicle unless you are told to do so by the police or if it poses a safety hazard to other people on the road.

3. Call the police if anyone was injured.

This will also be needed if an offence has been committed or if a state vehicle or property has been damaged. In these situations, you need to stay on site until a police officer has dismissed you.

4. Make sure your car is still safe to drive.

Check on the state of your car. Is it safe to drive and will it get you home or to the nearest police station? Sometimes the answer is obvious but if you aren’t entirely sure, rather play it safe and contact your insurer’s towing services.

5. If your car is not driveable, call your insurer’s towing services.

You may quickly find yourself encountering pushy tow truck drivers. Numerous tow truck drivers can arrive on the scene in minutes and knowing who to deal with can be intimidating. This is incredibly important: don’t make use of the first service provider that appears on the scene, even if they claim to be from your insurer. Spend the few extra minutes calling your insurer’s emergency roadside assistance line directly and asking for towing assistance and make sure they tell you exactly how to identify the tow-truck you should be using.

6. There’ll never be a better time to get your phone out and snap some pics.

Take as many photos as you can - of your own car and also any other vehicles or property involved. This includes number plates, license disks, street names or any other landmarks close by. Ask any other driver involved for photos of their drivers license. Your memory of the incident may become a bit fuzzy once the initial shock wears off, but your phone will remember important details weeks after the incident.

7. It is important to capture every detail.

Take down names and contact details of any and all witnesses, as well as other parties involved in the incident. This will really help you if you feel the accident was the fault of another individual and you want your insurer to help you recover your excess.

8. Check if there are any cameras pointed at the scene.

It may seem a bit ‘Big Brother’, but that random CCTV camera that is covering the scene of the accident could also be hugely helpful. Remember to take a pic of it to note its location.

9. If someone was injured or a third party or their property was involved, go report the incident to the police within 24 hours.

This is super important and a requirement of the South African Road Traffic Act. Make sure you jot down the case number and that you take pictures of the completed report right then and there. Remember, it is a legal requirement to report accidents where people or animals have been injured or other people’s property has been damaged. And as a bonus, it will also help you with possible recovery from a responsible third party later in the process.

10. Let your insurer know about the accident immediately.

Towing reports can take time and speaking to your insurer directly will help speed up the process. Share all the information and pictures you were able to gather from the scene, arming them with all the information that will help the process move forward as quickly and painlessly as possible.

It’s easy to panic and lose your composure when involved in an accident, but equipping yourself with the right knowledge and know-how will definitely help you be your best when the worst happens.