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Getting caught in a vehicle collision of any kind is a frightening experience. Shock often clouds judgement and reason, and may make it difficult to know what to do next. Below are a couple of essential steps to take straight after the accident, as well as in the days that follow.

At the scene

Warn others and make sure you are safe

Immediately after the accident, it is crucial that you warn other motorists, either by putting on your hazards, if possible, or by placing an emergency triangle 50m from the accident site. Once you have made sure that these are in place, get yourself to a safe place – do not stand in a dangerous zone which could make you subject to further injury.

In most cases, it is best to leave vehicles as they are and not to try move them. Only if it is required by law, or presents a severe safety hazard to oncoming traffic should you attempt to move anything.

Get help for anyone who has been injured

Once you have made sure you are safe, call for help, especially if someone has been injured. Call either an ambulance or a rescue unit, even if injuries do not look severe.

Our instincts often prompt us to help someone in pain, but it is vital that you do not move any injured persons, or administer first aid without qualification. Inexperienced medical attention may lead to further injuries or could aggravate delicate conditions. The best you can do is to stay with the person and try to keep them calm as you wait.

Make sure to cooperate with the emergency personnel when they arrive. Remember, they are trained to deal with these situations as efficiently as possible; listen to everything they tell you to do or not to do. The crew will also be able to help you come out of the inevitable shock that accompanies either witnessing or being involved in such an event.

Document the accident and collect details

It is important that you take time to document as much of the accident as possible. This will be useful when you have to report it to the police – shock can sometimes get in the way of remembering particulars clearly when you are required to recall them.

Below are a couple of pointers regarding key information you should try your best to collect:

–          The date and time of the crash.

–          If it is safe to do so, take pictures of the scene, from all angles, including the surrounding area, injuries, and any damage to property. If you do not have a camera or device with a camera function with you, attempt to make a rough sketch. Anything will be useful in building together what happened later on.

–          Write down exactly where you are (you can make use of the GPS function on a phone; look out for any signage nearby; or take note of landmarks, such as stores, a petrol station etc.)

–          Get as much information about the drivers involved as possible. This includes their full names, ID number, contact details (e.g. a phone number), address, vehicle registration number, full car description (make and colour), and insurance company details. If the owner of the car was not driving, make sure you get the details of both the driver and the owner. If there were any eye-witnesses, at least try to get their names and a phone number.

–          Take note of weather and road conditions around the time of the accident.

(It is paramount that you do not discuss who may have been in the wrong with anyone at the scene – this could compromise your ability to make a claim to your insurance company later on).

Call a towing company if necessary

If your vehicle is causing a dangerous obstruction to oncoming traffic, you will have to move it. However, be sure to wait for the go-ahead from a police officer before doing anything.

If for any reason you are unable to move the vehicle yourself, a tow truck company will be able to offer you suitable assistance. The company you choose to work with will be completely up to you; only in special cases, will the police be permitted to make the decision on who should transport your vehicle and where it needs to go. Visit our article on the standard tow truck process for more guidance on making use of a towing service.

After the accident

Report to SAPS

Whenever an incident like this has taken place, it must be reported to the police. Anything that happens on public roads or in areas to which the public has rights of access, needs to be recorded by the South African Police Service (SAPS).

If you were one of the drivers implicated in the accident, you must visit a station to report it yourself – third party or over-the-phone reports will unfortunately not be accepted. Try your best to do this within 24 hours of the accident. If this is not possible, do it on the first working day after the accident has occurred. Passengers and pedestrians present at the scene may also report their involvement at any police station.

When reporting, bring your driver’s license (if you were one of the drivers) or ID with you. Passengers or pedestrians should also provide identification, a statement/affidavit of involvement, and hospital records (if applicable).

At the station, each person reporting will need to fill out their own accident report (AR) form. This gives every person involved a fair opportunity to tell their side of the story. The accident report number generated after filing your form, will be needed for any insurance or third-party claims.

Contact your insurance

Your insurance company will be vital in this process. Phone them as soon as possible, and write down the name of the broker spoken to, as well as the reference number of your claim. Your insurance will be able to help you with any damage claims after the accident, as well as towing assistance if you need your vehicle to be moved.

If you do not have insurance, you will have to personally claim from the person liable for the damages. This may need to be pursued in court, with the level of legal involvement depending on the amount you want to claim. Typically, anything less than R20 000 can be pursued within the Small Claims Court, whilst larger amounts will be taken up either in the Magistrate’s Court or the High Court (this will require help from a legal practitioner).

Get financial support

If you have incurred any expenses due to a road accident, and you were not the one who caused it, the Road Accident Fund (RAF) will be able to offer support. These expenses may include medical bills, funeral costs, compensation for pain or suffering, lost earnings from an inability to work, or a loss of support i.e. if you are a dependent.

In these cases, you may claim from the RAF yourself or with the assistance of a lawyer. The RAF, however, advises claiming on your own, to avoid legal fees which you would have to pay for.

Seek medical attention

It is advised to consult a doctor immediately after an accident – especially if you have been injured in any way, minor or severe. Internal damage to your organs is often not visible, and so it is best to get examined even if you do not think you got majorly hurt. Make sure you get a proper, professional diagnosis.

The most common injury experienced in road accidents is whiplash. This is where the neck is put under severe strain due to a forceful backwards and forwards movement caused during a collision. The effects of whiplash may last a long time after the accident, and so it is a good idea to get medical attention as soon as possible.

Receiving a formal opinion from a doctor can also aid your case when making a claim.

Causes of road accidents

After an accident has taken place, piecing together what happened can be challenging, especially if there were multiple factors in play. When reporting to the police, it helps to consider all aspects which may have contributed to the final event. Here is a brief list of the most common causes of crashes:

Negligent or reckless driving

In South Africa, negligent and reckless driving make up a large percentage of road accidents caused daily. The difference between the two lies in the levels of awareness regarding road safety. Negligent drivers are often unintentional in their unsafe driving, failing to do things like keeping a proper lookout or having difficulty in keeping the vehicle under complete control. Reckless motorists have full knowledge of the risks they are taking, as well as the danger they are putting others in. They will unapologetically drive over the speed limit or at excessive speeds, use their phone whilst driving, ignore red robots or Stop signs, drive under the influence of alcohol or narcotics, disregard the use of indicator lights when turning or changing lanes, or will fail to turn on their headlights while driving in the dark, or in bad weather conditions.

Weather conditions

Cold, rainy, and/or foggy weather can also lead to an increase in road accidents. Visibility may be reduced, and roads can become more slippery, making it crucial that drivers maintain a safe following distance and drive at appropriate speeds. Unfortunately, not all motorists take care in conditions like this, easily leading to a loss of control over their vehicles, which puts others in danger of getting involved in a collision.

Road maintenance or poor road quality

Badly maintained roads, or roads in the process of being redone can cause problems for motorists, especially if some are not driving within road safety guidelines. Temporary speed limits and warning signs are put in place to protect road workers and drivers. If these are not respected, consequences may follow.

Car malfunctioning

Sometimes, our cars give us unforeseen trouble, putting ourselves and others in a threatening position. Anything from a failed break, to a faulty clutch, to an overheated engine could result in a sudden inability to control the vehicle. Be sure to regularly check your oil and water, and take your car in for a service if you notice anything unusual.

Sudden illness

An unexpected onslaught of illness (such as a heart attack or an epileptic fit) is an unfortunate, and often unavoidable cause of road accidents. In the case of illness, the person will not be prosecuted, but will still be liable to pay any damages caused. Insurance can offer a big help in this regard.

Whatever the case, safe driving requires everyone on the road to play their part. This does not always happen, and leads to the sad reality of road accidents. If you have been involved in one, we hope that this guide has been able to assist you in figuring out what to do next to get back on your feet.