No-one expects to be involved in a crash on the road. However, in 2018, over 158,000 people were hurt in accidents. Around 25,500 were seriously injured. In the same year, UK insurers paid out over £7 billion for motor insurance claims of all types.
Whether a minor bump or a serious accident, they can happen in the blink of an eye. Shock, fright or injury can often cause us to forget what we should do in the immediate aftermath.
We've pulled together this guide as a handy reminder of the steps to take after a car accident.
- Do you have to report a minor car accident to police forces?
- Steps to take after a car accident
- What types of injury are common in a road traffic accident?
- Should I see the doctor after a car accident?
- What happens if I've been in a car accident that wasn't my fault?
- With a car accident that's my fault, what happens?
- What are the steps to take after a car accident where the other driver didn't stop?
- I was in a car accident yesterday, what should I do next?
- What happens if I wasn't wearing my seatbelt?
- What the law says about seatbelts
- Can I make a car accident claim on someone else's behalf?
- What are the time limits for making a car accident compensation claim?
- What safety items should I keep in my car just in case?
- What should I do if I hit an animal?
- What does the Highway Code say about pets in cars?
- What should I do if I am stranded on the motorway hard shoulder?
Do you have to report a minor car accident to police forces?
Under some circumstances you must dial 999 and ask for the police. They are:
- If anyone is injured. They'll establish whether an ambulance or fire brigade are needed.
- If the accident has blocked the road.
- If the other vehicle failed to stop.
- If you suspect the other driver is under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
- If the other driver won't give their insurance details or you think they may be uninsured.
- If you suspect that the other driver caused the collision deliberately.
Steps to take after a car accident
Sometimes in a car accident what to do next is easily forgotten in that moment of shock. Regardless of who is to blame or how bad the accident was, these are the immediate steps you should take.
- DO pull over safely if you are able.
- DO stop the car, switch off your engine and turn on your hazard lights to warn other road users.
- DO check for any injuries to you or your passengers, then check for injuries with any others involved. If anyone is injured, dial 999 and ask for the police.
- DO get all passengers out of the vehicle and make sure they're safe.
- DO exchange name, address, contact number, registration details, vehicle owner's name and insurance details with others involved.
- DO keep calm.
- DON'T apologise or admit fault in the heat of the moment. What's happened and who's to blame is for the insurance companies or police to decide.
What types of injury are common in a road traffic accident?
Car and road traffic accidents can cause a wide range of impact injuries. Most UK police constabularies classify road accident injuries into five categories. The most serious category is fatality, of which there were 1,784 instances in 2018. The others are:
- Slight - covers injuries like neck whiplash, shock, bruising, soft tissue sprains and strains plus shallow cuts, grazing and abrasions.
- Less serious - deep cuts, hand, arm or collarbone fractures plus foot, ankle or lower leg fractures and minor head injuries.
- Moderately serious - chest injuries, deeply penetrating wounds and thigh or pelvis fracture,
- Very serious - broken neck or spine, severe head, chest or crush injury with loss of consciousness or breathing difficulty. Also included are all internal injuries and multiple severe injuries combined with a loss of consciousness.
Motorcycling injuries are often more serious than those sustained in a car or commercial vehicle. It's also worth pointing out that whiplash, while common, can vary wildly in severity. Bad cases can be very hard to deal with and can take months to heal.
Should I see the doctor after a car accident?
This is a common-sense call. If you have suffered an injury, then go and see your GP or visit your local A&E if it's more serious. Our advice is go see your GP anyway as you may have an internal injury you don't know about. Common car accident conditions like whiplash may not be immediately apparent and can take a couple of days to appear.
What happens if I've been in a car accident that wasn't my fault?
In these circumstances, the other driver's car insurance policy will take care of any vehicle repairs you need. If you've been injured, you also may be eligible to make a no win no fee compensation claim against the other driver's insurers. This applies if you were the driver or a passenger. Call us for a confidential chat on and we can advise on your situation.
With a car accident that's my fault, what happens?
The insurance companies involved will decide who is to blame for the crash. The police may recommend prosecution in cases like driving without due care and attention, reckless driving or driving under the influence of drink or drugs.
- If you were at fault, then your insurance company will pay for the vehicle repairs.
- You will pay the excess on your policy. This is the portion of any claim that you agreed with your motor insurer when you took out the cover.
- You'll lose a proportion of any no-claims bonus you've built up and your premium may increase at renewal.
- If the other party was injured and seeks compensation, your insurance company will pay the claim if it's successful.
If you were also injured, you won't be able to make a compensation claim as you were to blame for the accident.
What are the steps to take after a car accident where the other driver didn't stop?
Failure to stop after an accident is often called a ‘hit and run' or ‘dent and run'. It's a criminal offence that carries a maximum penalty of six months in prison.
If you've been injured in a hit and run, as a driver, passenger, pedestrian or any other type of road user, there is a system in place to help you.
The Motor Insurance Bureau (MIB) is the organisation run by UK insurers to compensate people injured on the road in challenging circumstances. These circumstances are where:
- The other driver failed to stop and drove off without you getting their details or registration number.
- For instance, this could be because the car was stolen or on fake plates.
- The other driver was uninsured or could not be traced via the DVLA.
- The other vehicle was foreign-registered.
- You've been a victim of terrorism involving a vehicle.
We can help, so call us on for a confidential chat. We'll be able to advise if you're eligible to make a car accident compensation claim. If you decide to go ahead, the process works like this:
- We'll connect you with one of our specialist car accident lawyers.
- They'll investigate the details and decide if they can take on your claim.
- They'll handle your claim on a no win no fee basis and handle it directly with the MIB.
- If the claim succeeds, the MIB will make you a personal injury compensation award.
I was in a car accident yesterday, what should I do next?
Always make sure you do the following things after a crash:
- Report it to your insurer, describe what happened and give them the other parties' details.
- Make sure you also tell them if you've been injured.
- Gather any evidence like pictures or dashcam footage.
- If you or any others were injured and no-one called the police at the scene, then report it to the constabulary where the accident occurred.
- Do this by calling the police on 101 (not 999).
- You must make the report within 24 hours of the accident.
- Promptly follow any and all subsequent instructions your motor insurer or the police give you.
What happens if I wasn't wearing my seatbelt?
There are some specific exceptions, but the law says you must wear a seatbelt in the front or back of a moving vehicle. However, you may still be able to make an injury claim if you weren't wearing one as long as the car accident was someone else's fault.
You may have been injured because you weren't wearing your seatbelt. Alternatively, your injuries may have been made worse because you weren't doing so. Either way, you'll likely receive a lower compensation payout in a successful claim because of contributory negligence.
- This means that while you weren't responsible for being injured, wearing no belt made you partially to blame for your injuries.
Let's work through an example. You're hurt in a road traffic accident and the successful injury compensation claim you bring against the other side is worth £10,000.
- Because you weren't wearing your seatbelt, it might be agreed that you were 25% responsible and the other party 75%.
- This is called a split liability of 25:75.
- That 25% of blame equates to £2,500 so the award is £7,500 instead of the full £10,000.
What the law says about seatbelts
You must always wear a seatbelt in the front and the back seats of a moving vehicle. The exceptions include:
- You're a passenger on a bus not fitted with seatbelts or were standing.
- You've got a medical exemption certificate.
- You're delivering goods in a commercial vehicle and have less than 50 metres to your next drop-off.
Seatbelts and your children
- All kids under 14 years old must wear seatbelts or sit in an approved child seat with the proper restraints.
- For children under 1.35 metres in height, you must use a baby seat, child seat, booster seat or suitable, approved booster cushion.
- These must be fitted according to the manufacturer's instructions.
Can I make a car accident claim on someone else's behalf?
Yes, you can. This usually happens when the injury victim is under 18 or an adult unable to make the claim themselves because they are mentally or physically incapable. This could be as a result of the accident injury.
The person who does this is called a litigation friend. They are normally a parent, family member, a trusted carer, guardian or an official appointee. They work with the solicitor in no win no fee car accident claims to make all decisions on the claimant's behalf, always looking after their best interests.
If this reflects your situation, call us on for a confidential chat. We'll be able to help.
What are the time limits for making a car accident compensation claim?
- You have three years from the date of injury to begin a claim.
- If you're acting as a litigation friend for someone whose psychological or physical ability is so compromised they can't claim themselves, then there are no time limits.
- This could be because of the car accident injuries or because of a pre-existing condition.
- For children or minors any age under 18 at the time of the injury, you can make a claim on their behalf any time up to their 18th birthday.
- If no claim is made, they then have three years from their 18th to their 21st birthdays to claim as an adult.
What safety items should I keep in my car just in case?
If you have a car accident or a breakdown, here are the useful things to keep in your car that will help keep you safe and comfortable. They include:
- Spare jacket, jumper, gloves, socks and boots during bad weather.
- The phone number for your breakdown provider.
- Spare set of lightbulbs in case one blows - plus a torch.
- Ice-scraper and some de-icer spray.
- Bottle of water, long-life snacks, a pen and a pad.
- High visibility vest so you can be seen clearly.
- Two foldaway warning triangles, one for the front of the vehicle and one for the back.
- Simple first aid kit for minor cuts, knocks and bumps.
- Sunglasses to help with harsh low sun in through the late autumn, winter and early spring.
- A spare charging cable and a USB bullet that plugs into the cigarette lighter socket or 12V power point will keep your phone charged.
- UK road atlas just in case you get lost and run out of charge for your device.
- Your vehicle user manual - but keep the service booklet somewhere safe at home. It's a valuable document and is useful to a criminal if your car is stolen.
- Tyre pressure gauge to make sure your tyres are properly inflated.
Remember to check the wheel-changing kit in your car is complete. It should contain:
- Car jack, lug (socket) wrench for the wheel nuts and a ‘magic' wrench adapter for the single lockable nut normally found on each wheel.
- Spare tyre and wheel, either full-size or space saver. Check the pressure every so often so you never accidentally find yourself changing one flat tyre for another.
What should I do if I hit an animal?
It's always distressing, but if you hit the following animals, the Road Traffic Act 1988 says you must notify the police. Not to do so is a criminal offence.
- Dog, donkey or mule, horse, goat, pig, sheep or cow.
Cats and dogs
- If you're aware you've hit a dog or a cat, stop if it's safe to do so.
- Move the animal to a safe place, if it can be moved.
- Keep it warm with a blanket or coat if you have one.
- If it has a collar tag, call the owner and take it to them or the nearest vet, if possible.
- If it's a dog, make sure you report it to the local police within 24 hours by dialling 101.
- The vet will check to see if a collarless domestic pet has a microchip ID. All dogs must be microchipped by law. Mandatory microchipping for cats is under review.
- If the owners can't be identified, the vet will usually file a missing pet report with the local council.
- Historically, you don't need to report hitting a cat to the police.
- However, legislation is now under consideration to correct this so be aware that your legal duty as a road user may change.
If you find yourself with no alternative, report road accidents with proscribed animals to the police immediately and to a local vet or the RSPCA's emergency service on 0300 1234 999 if they need urgent care.
With incidents involving wildlife, it's a common sense call. Rabbits, foxes, birds and badgers are one thing. But if it's a big, incapacitated mammal like an injured deer, you may wish to seek veterinary or RSPCA help at the scene. Notify the local council if you feel it's necessary.
What does the Highway Code say about pets in cars?
In the Highway Code, Rule 57 says:
- “When in a vehicle make sure dogs or other animals are suitably restrained so they cannot distract you while you are driving or injure you, or themselves if you stop quickly. A seat belt harness, pet carrier, dog cage or dog guard are ways of restraining animals in cars.”
This isn't a legal requirement of road traffic legislation. There's no direct penalty but it is clear and common sense safety advice nonetheless. This is because an unrestrained animal becomes a projectile in a car accident:
- A 50-pound (22kg) Springer Spaniel generates 1,500 pounds of force in a head-on crash at just 30 mph. That's well over half over a ton of momentum.
- Even a 10-pound (4.5kg) pocket-sized pooch like a terrier generates over 300 pounds of force under the same conditions.
- It's usually fatal for the animal and can cause grievous injury to any occupant it hits, especially if the vehicle rolls over in the accident.
It should come as no surprise that the police can be justified in pulling you over for driving without due care and attention if four-legged passengers are loose in your vehicle. Be aware this could mean:
- Three to nine penalty points on your licence and a fine up to £5,000.
- The fact being used in evidence against you in the event of a road accident.
- Your motor cover and any pet insurance you have is invalidated.
We say safety first and always follow the Highway Code to the letter. In addition:
- Never let your pet ride on your lap, in the passenger footwell or loose on the backseat.
Never sit them on the front seat where they could be seriously injured or worse by a deploying airbag. Airbags are triggered by impact speeds as low as 8mph.
What should I do if I am stranded on the motorway hard shoulder?
- Try and stop as near as possible to an emergency telephone.
- There's one roughly every mile on the hard shoulder and they're usually painted orange.
- Using it will identify your location to the police or the relevant highways authority.
- Ensure your hazard lights are on and flashing.
- Always leave the vehicle from the left-hand doors (nearside).
- It's awkward for the driver but vital for their safety.
- Move any passengers to a safe place away from the hard shoulder.
- Leave animals secure inside the car.
- Only move pets if it's an emergency situation, in which case keep them restrained on a lead and well back from the hard shoulder.
- Read the official police guidance about how to get emergency help.
Visit our car accident claims and road traffic accident claims pages to explore more. Alternatively, call us on and speak in confidence to one of our friendly legal support advisors. We can help you make it right.