Expert advice: what to do if you have a crash


Do you need to call the police if you don’t damage anything other than your car in a crash? Read on to find out (Picture iStock/WhiteMay)

Having a crash can be one of the most stressful parts of driving. At this time of year with the sun low in the sky leading to tricky light conditions, and cold damp weather making the road surface treacherous, we always see accident rates increase.

But if you know what to do in the immediate aftermath of a crash, it can take the pain away. Below I answer important questions such as whether you must call the police and when you need to give insurance details.

Nearly all of us carry a mobile phone, which is handy for taking pictures of any damage. And I’d always advise drivers to carry a pen and paper in the car too. It’s useful for taking other drivers’ details and making notes of what happened while they’re still fresh in your mind.

But most importantly, drivers should stay safe at the roadside. Having a crash frequently puts us in a dangerous situation, as highlighted by our current ‘Slow down, move over’ campaign. Read my tips here about what to do if you’re stranded at the roadside.

Stop but stay safe

No matter how little damage is done you must stop at the scene if you have a crash. It’s the law. The 1988 Road Safety Act says drivers can be fined and in extreme cases even imprisoned if they don’t pull over. If your car is still driveable, find somewhere safe to stop. Then turn the engine off, engage the parking brake and put the hazard warning lights on.

Make sure you get all occupants out of the car. If another driver involved in the accident fails to stop, try to note down their registration number. Report them to the police immediately.

Call the police


First thing’s first: is anyone injured? If they are, calling an ambulance is the priority. If you’re in a motorway layby, use one of the emergency phones as the rescue services will be able to locate you instantly.

You should then call the police if the road is blocked. Also ring the police if you suspect there’s something dodgy going on and you’ve been a victim of a ‘crash for cash’ scam, or you believe one of the other parties is under the influence of drink or drugs.

Whatever the state of the road, you must report the accident to the police if you cause damage to another vehicle that isn’t your own, another person, an animal or property. The law says you should also give your name and address: “To any person having reasonable grounds for so requiring.”

If you don’t have your insurance certificate on you, you have to produce it at a police station within 24 hours of the crash.

Sorry might be an expensive word

If it’s your fault, you may be aching to say sorry to anyone who’ll listen – it’s human nature, after all ‑ but try to resist. In the eyes of the law, saying sorry isn’t technically considered to be an admission of guilt. But it could be used against you by another driver and may have an impact on an insurance claim.

Get the details

Rather than apologising, I’d put my energy into making sure everyone involved in the accident is in a safe place. Then swap details. You are obliged to give your name, address and car registration number. If you’re not the owner of the vehicle you must give their name too.

You don’t have to give your insurance details unless anyone is injured. But it might make settling things smoother if you do. When I renew my cover, I always take a photograph of my insurance certificate with my phone so I’ve got it with me.

I would advise getting other people’s insurance details just in case. A car crash is a high stress moment and with all that adrenaline coursing through your system, you might not feel bruises or whiplash injuries until a couple of hours after the event.


It makes sense to exchange details with any other people involved in the crash (Picture iStock/DMBaker)

Make notes

Ask three people to describe what happened in an accident and you’ll probably get three different answers. And it can be difficult to recall exact details a couple of hours afterwards.

That’s where a mobile phone comes in handy. Take photographs of any damage to your car and others. Do a sketch too of what happened, where cars started and finished and the sequence of events. And note down what time of day it was, what the weather was like and which direction you were pointing in. All of these might be relevant and help when talking to insurers.

Nick Reid is head of automotive technology for Green Flag and is a fellow of the Institute of the Motor Industry

16 comments on “Expert advice: what to do if you have a crash

  1. Eric Hayman 20/11/2018 9:57 AM

    “. If your car is still driveable, find somewhere safe to stop. ” The car will already be stopped, so what does this mean? Moving the car from the site of the accident will most likely remove evidence as to what happened and who is to blame. A woman drove her car into the back of my car, damaging the rear bumper and boot. She wanted me to drive to a side road “to exchange details” – more likely so that she could have driven off. I refused, took photographs of her car and mine – and called the police. Only in that way did I make sure I was protected from her driving off or claiming the accident was my fault. Her insurance company paid to have my car repaired. The police were not interested in her being charged with careless driving – which it was.

    • Malcol 05/09/2019 7:10 PM

      I don’t see why you will always be stopped, a side swipe can easily leave you moving

    • Jeff 08/09/2019 7:55 PM

      With the lack of police nowadays you will have to do more of the leg work yourself. I worry for the innocent people who cannot defend themselves due to no traffic cops.

  2. david 25/11/2018 11:42 AM

    I agree with Eric take photos first then remove to a safe place “but what in the case of a motor way bump and there is no lay bye” this is a dangerous move on the part of the councils doing away with lay byes and using them as an extra lane.

  3. Eric Hayman 26/11/2018 2:19 PM

    David – I hear the M4 for several junctions after leaving London is to be made a “smart” motorway – in reality a stupidly altered motorway if the hard shoulder is going to be turned into Lane One. I drove up to London and back yesterday on the M3, with its hard shoulder as far as around Junction Four turned into Lane One. One of the so-called Emergency Laybys had a broken down car in it. To give an idea of the dangers posed by broken down vehicles, on the Wessex Way in Bournemouth a car had cones and two Police Slow signs just before it. Traffic coming on it had to swerve around the obstruction. And the speed limit there is 40 mph.

    • Jeff 08/09/2019 7:59 PM

      Why does no-one spot these things in advance? Where are the Highways Agency?

  4. Geoffrey Hickin 04/09/2019 9:50 PM

    I think the government and highways agencies should be sued by everyone who suffers any kind of loss, injuries to themselves or death of a relative for forcing us to use these death trap’ so called smart motorway systems!
    And what for?
    Just to get traffic moving faster!

    We need a campaign to get rid of them before any more people die on these dangerous roads!

    The government and it’s agencies should listen to their own advice when they for example talk about speeding!


    And then they create these death traps that we have no choice but to use!
    I personally will always avoid using them wherever possible due to the obvious danger, I don’t want to risk being stranded in a live lane in a broken down vehicle waiting for the inevitable impact.
    And no I’m not someone who is a bit nervous of motorways.
    I’ve travelled thousands of miles on them.

    • J. 04/09/2019 10:49 PM

      You clearly have no idea of how smart motorways work. Why don’t you do some research before spouting off. But fine by me if ignorant people like you avoid the motorways. One less to worry about.
      It’s not motorways that are dangerous, it’s stupid drivers that travel too close, don’t pay attention and try to overtake in stupid ways.

    • peter cook 06/09/2019 12:34 PM

      Someone invented the idea of using the hard shoulder as a driving lane instead of a safety refuge and lane for emergency vehicles. I suggest that they just stay stationary in this running lane for about 5 minutes on a normally fairly busy traffic period and THEN ask their opinion of the idea. If they have managed to duck into a safety bay – then see how easy it is to return to the main highway. The whole idea is a recipe for danger.

    • Jeff 08/09/2019 8:06 PM

      I’m all for taking them to court but if the cops had not been cut down so badly over the last few years we would not be in so much trouble on the motorways. Have you noticed that the Interceptors on tv were made before the cuts? They have almost vanished.

  5. Stuart Warren 05/09/2019 6:57 PM

    I recently had a mirror taken off by a passing vehicle. It was a narrow road and I had pulled in to allow the other vehicle to pass. However, they were travelling too fast and too close, hence the damage. They did offer to pay for any damage, and kept to their word. I immediately reported the incident to my Insurers, to my cost !!! Although there was no claim and no cost to my Insurers this did affect my No Claims Bonus and resulted in a higher premium when I next renewed !!! Hardly fair !!! So much for reporting every accident !!!

  6. MR D N PERKINS 06/09/2019 8:33 PM

    I have a dash cam fitted to both the front and rear of my car in case of a rear shunt or front end shunt, easy to fit and reassurance and piece of mind.

  7. Robert Kitching 07/09/2019 9:21 AM

    What a load of nonsense. Has Nick Reid ever been in a real car accident? The probability is that the driver(s) and passengers will be so badly shaken that the last thing they will be capable of doing is organising the injured, calling the police, taking photographs writing down details and drawing sketches etc. The most reliable help will likely come from passers-by, even in minor accidents. I think that Nick Reid is writing from behind a desk. Why not give guidance in a real situation, where real people are involved?

    • Jeff 08/09/2019 8:09 PM

      I was a bit shaken up when I helped in accident and dread to think what would happen if I was in my own accident!

  8. A Boyden 14/09/2019 4:06 PM

    Agree with Mr Perkins whole heartedly, after being involved in an accident I sent a dvd of the accident to my insurer and the oppositions insurer settle without argument.

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