Legal Duties after a Collision and Road Crash

A road crash happens fast and is a traumatic experience. It may leave you shaken, injured and unable to think clearly. For those reasons, it’s a good idea to review what to do if you’re in a road accident now.

Then, if you’re ever involved in a crash, it will be easier to respond correctly.

Road crashes have legal consequences. For instance, a criminal charge of driving without a license, drunken driving or culpable homicide may follow. Civil consequences may include claims for damage to property, or personal injury, and may arise whether there is a criminal charge or not.

The law clearly sets out your duties if you are involved in, or contribute to, an accident on a public road in which any other person is killed or injured or suffers damage in respect of any property or animal. You must do the following:

Stopping the Vehicle to Assist

  • Immediately stop your vehicle;
  • Ascertain the nature and extent of any injury sustained by any person;
  • If a person is injured, render whatever assistance that you are capable of;
  • If you know nothing about first aid, don't do anything that might aggravate an injury.
  • Rendering assistance includes ensuring that qualified help - such as an ambulance or a rescue unit - is summoned.
  • Unless you are obliged to go for help, you should remain at the scene until a police officer permits you to leave.

A driver who fails to stop after an accident when required to do so by law is liable to be prosecuted and, if convicted, fined up to R36000, or sent to prison for up to nine years, or both. If you can prove that you did not stop because you were not aware of the accident, you may avoid prosecution. If not, the courts will presume that you were aware of the accident.

You do not have to stop or report an accident if, for example, you collide with a tree and damage only your car and injure nobody or only yourself. If, however, you damage someone else's property - a vehicle, say, or an electric-light standard - you must stop and then report the incident at the nearest police station.

Don’t make the mistake of assuming it’s okay not to stop after an accident that isn’t serious. Failing to pull over counts as a “hit and run” and is a criminal offence, even if nobody is killed or seriously injured in the accident.

Once you’ve pulled over, put on your hazard lights to alert other drivers. It’s also a good idea to position an emergency triangle about 45 metres from the accident site to warn oncoming traffic.

Call Emergency Services

Immediately after pulling over, assess the situation and call emergency services. Give your name, number, location and details of the accident, including the number of people injured, if any.

It’s a good idea to have these emergency numbers stored on your cell phone:

  • 10177 if an ambulance is required
  • 10111 if police response is required
  • on a cell phone, 112 for any emergency.

Calling 112 from a cell phone will put you through to a call centre, starting with an automated menu. The centre categorises emergency calls and routes them to appropriate responders.

By law, you must call the police to the scene of a crash if anyone has been seriously injured or killed. You should also call the police if you suspect any of the drivers involved in the accident are under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Exchanging Information

After a road accident, it’s legally required that you provide your information to anyone who has reasonable grounds to request it. This includes other drivers involved in the crash and law enforcement officers. If a police officer is present, you’ll be required to show your license if you were driving.

  • Give your name and address to any person who has reasonable grounds for requiring them, the name and address of the vehicle's owner if it is not your own and the vehicle's registration number.
  • Get details of other drivers and witnesses
  • Ask others involved in the accident, as well as any witnesses, for their details.
  • Also, record the registration and licence numbers of other vehicles involved in the accident.

Refrain from consuming any Alcohol!!

Do NOT take any intoxicating liquor or a drug having a narcotic effect unless, in the case of injury or shock, it is administered on the instructions of, or by, a medical practitioner. If you are requested by a police officer to submit yourself for examination by a medical practitioner, you may not take intoxicating liquor or a drug having a narcotic effect before the examination and before you have given the particulars and reported the accident.  

Being under the influence of a narcotic drug could influence how you report the crash and affect your credibility. It could also be difficult to prove that you weren’t under the influence while driving.

Collecting Evidence

Stan Bezuidenhout from Crash Guys International provided a short checklist for what you should photograph with your cell phone, immediately after an accident:

  1. The positions of vehicles, from far enough away to show how and where they came to rest, relative to the roadway and any substantial features in the immediate area.
  2. The general scene, including all vehicles and elements if possible, from all available elevated positions, structures or higher vehicles, preferably showing the whole scene.
  3. The 4 sides and 4 corners of each vehicle and/or trailer, individually, from far enough away to show the whole side or the two sides forming a corner.
  4. The damages to each vehicle or trailer, from at least three angles and a higher angle, from far enough to show the vehicle clearly and from close enough to show the damages properly, if possible.
  5. The license disks and/or licence plates, signage, branding and the make and model of each vehicle and all trailers involved.
  6. The vehicle/s of attending services (law enforcement unit/s, ambulances and/or fire services, towing and recovery units) and any other services and private vehicles present.
  7. Any road surface evidence, like scratch marks, gouges, deposits and fluid spills, tyre marks, debris or any other relevant visible evidence from multiple sides - at the beginning, end and along the length - and in relation to the scene as a whole.
  8. Any obstructions, road closures, road works, road markings, signs, mile markers, unique features or traffic or pedestrians, at the scene - from multiple angles.
  9. Driving licenses, ID Documents, Passports or other identification or business cards of all involved drivers, passengers, witnesses or involved parties, as far as possible.
  10. Contamination of evidence like vehicles being opened by Jaws of Life moved or lifted to free entrapped occupant’s, photograph this happening - but only if possible and from far enough away not to show faces of victims.

This list is inclusive of the minimum evidence that would best serve the most basic requirements to be of benefit in any insurance claim, dispute or trial.

This list may be distributed as long as it is shared completely, as it appears, without any changes and with acknowledgement of the author and copyright holder.

What NOT to Do and Say!

Be careful of what you say at the scene of a road crash. With emotions and adrenaline running high, people often say things after an accident that they come to regret. Stay calm and say less rather than more. Even an offhand or innocent remark may be recorded in police statements and insurance claims and used against you under cross-examination.

What type of things should you avoid saying?

First, don’t admit you were to blame and definitely don’t offer any payment that could be construed as a bribe. Most insurers prohibit statements of admission, offer, promise, payment or indemnity.

Also, avoid saying things like the following:

“I will pay for the damages” or “I’m sure my insurance will take care of it” This could be seen as an admission of fault. Similarly, don’t agree to settle anything without the help of an attorney.

“I didn’t see you” or “I was on the phone”. These are examples of admissions against interest, which are admissible in court and may be used against you.

“I don’t need medical help. I’m fine.” This kind of statement can be an admission against interest. Also, it can take a few days for injuries to reveal themselves. Endorphins and adrenaline may initially mask the symptoms of injury.

Do not make any statements admitting fault as this may affect the investigation and authorisation of your claim.

A few more Do’s to Consider:

  • If your vehicle needs towing, only use a towing service that is authorised by your insurance company;
  • If you do not have tow cover with your insurance company ask the tow truck driver for a quote before your vehicle is towed away; and
  • Write down the name, contact details and vehicle registration number of the driver and tow truck and find out where your vehicle is being taken.
  • Remember these tips and inform your insurance company as soon as possible to ensure that you are back on the road in no time.

Reporting Duties to the Police

  • You must report the collision at a police station or an authorised office of a traffic officer within 24 hours, with your driving licence.
  •  If you could not do so because of your injuries, you must report it as soon as is reasonably practicable. (Where details are recorded at the scene by a police or traffic officer, you should have a valid driving licence in your possession. Failure to produce this licence is an offence.)
  • When two cars are involved in a collision and nobody is injured, the drivers may decide to pay for their repairs and to forgo a claim against each other. The police need not be called to the scene of such an accident, but it must be reported - by both drivers - at a police station within 24 hours.
  • It is an offence not to report an accident in which another person's property has been damaged, or in which another person is injured, even if neither of the drivers intends taking legal action.
  • If you fail to report a car accident when required, you may be issued with an Infringement Notice in terms of Administrative Adjudication of Road Traffic Offences Act (AARTO) or a Written Notice to Appear in Court (J 534).

Claiming damages for a road crash

Under South African law, you can’t sue another person for compensation for damages for injuries sustained in a road accident. However, if you’re seriously injured in a road accident that was not solely your fault, you can claim compensation from the Road Accident Fund (RAF).

An attorney who specialises in RAF claims can determine if you have a claim, guide you through the claims process, assist you in gathering evidence and medical opinions to support the claim and represent you in legal proceedings.

You can also institute a claim directly to the Road Accident Fund

Insurance Considerations

The alarming frequency of car accidents happening on our South African roads is the strongest reason for car insurance. But car insurance is really only helpful after the accident, right? Wrong. Car insurers have been upping their game to offer consumers more value, and this includes being there for you from the very moment that you need it. As in, from the point of prang, they’ll leap in to help you handle the situation.

Never risk having to battle another party in contesting a financial claim after a road crash - Insure your Vehicle!

Even with all their help, it’s far better to have an idea of what to do after a car accident so that you’re not completely helpless!

Also, visit the following pages:

Accident Scene Safety

Identification of a Patient

Post Traumatic Stress

Trauma Counseling

Helicopter Evacuation

CrisisOnCall , Emergency Roadside Assistance and Road Safety