Legal criteria to follow after you’ve been in an accident

Legal criteria to follow after you’ve been in an accident

Whether a tree just ‘jumped out’ in front of you, a taxi scratched you as it tried to squeeze past or a careless driver rear-ended you at a robot, landing up with an accident-damaged car is no joke. But, knowing the right steps to take (so that you won’t have to face the full might of the law) is very important for your sanity and bank balance following a crash.

In South Africa, there are a number of legal duties required from drivers following an accident (however big or small).

#1 Stop and assist

Motorists are obliged to stop following almost any accident, whether it’s minor bumper bashing or major collision. 

Fact: Failing to pull over counts as a ‘hit and run’ and is a criminal offence, even if no-one is killed or seriously injured. A driver who fails to stop is liable to be prosecuted and fined up to R180 000 or sent to prison for up to 9 years, or both.

The only time when you are not obligated to stop is when you collide with a tree and only damage your car and no other people or vehicles are injured. However, if you collide with a person, car or animal, you are obliged to stop.

Even in cases where only property damage is incurred, such as damage to a light pole, robot, a wall, fence or another stationary car, you must stop at the scene and later report it to the police. 

Once you have stopped:

  • Find out if there have been any injuries and their extent. Render assistance to the injured by calling the ambulance for help. 📞
  • Put on your hazard lights and place an emergency triangle at least 45 metres from the accident scene to alert oncoming traffic. ⚠️

#2 Call the police and emergency services

Legally, you are permitted to call police to the scene of an accident if anyone has been seriously injured or killed. Police must also be called if you suspect that another driver is or has been under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Call the police on 10111 or the ambulance on 10177. Make sure to give your name, number, location, details of the accident and number of people who incurred injuries.

If police have been called to the scene of your accident-damaged car, you may not leave until a police officer gives you permission to do so. 🚔

#3 Exchange information 

It is a legal requirement to provide your information and contact details to anyone with reasonable grounds to request it following an accident. This includes other drivers involved in the accident and law enforcement officials.

Drivers exchange information after an accident

The details required will include your name and address, vehicle registration number, ID or passport numbers, driver’s licence details, and the details of other drivers involved, passengers and witnesses. 

Be prepared to show your licence to police officers upon request. 

#4 Collect evidence

Documenting the accident scene is not only paramount for police, insurers, the Road Accident Fund (RAF) and small claims court, but it is a vital step if you have an accident-damaged car

Take photos of the accident scene from all angles. These include photographs of the following:

  • The accident-damaged cars and/or property from all angles (these will also help you to draw a sketch of the accident scene for police).
  • The licence disks and number plates of all vehicles involved.
  • Emergency vehicles on the scene.
  • Any road surface evidence like scratch marks, tyre skidding marks, fluid spills and debris from various angles. 

Take photos of the accident-damaged car

#5 No alcohol or drugs

Only medication administered by a medical practitioner can be taken at the scene of an accident.

The danger with having a beer (even the reason for drinking it is merely to calm you down) after a scary accident, is that police may request that you submit yourself for a breathalyser test, where you do not want to be found having consumed any alcohol or drugs. 🍺

Being under the influence can also affect your retelling or recall of the details of the crash, your credibility and make it difficult to prove that you were not also under the influence when the accident occurred.

#6 Report the accident to police

Motorists are obliged to report accidents to police or traffic officials within 24 hours of the incident. (This is vital for any insurance or 3rd party claim). The only instances where delays are accepted is when you have incurred serious injuries. (But aim to report the accident as soon as humanly possible).

Take note of the police officer’s name as well as the accident report reference number.

If two cars are involved in an accident and no-one is injured, drivers can forgo a claim against each other and opt to pay for repairs. In these instances, it is not necessary for police to rush to the scene, but rather for both drivers to report the incident within 24 hours.

Fact: It is an offence not to report an accident to police where another person’s property has been damaged.

If you fail to report an accident, you could be issued with an Infringement Notice in terms of the Administrative Adjudication of Road Traffic Offences Act (AARTO) or a written notice to appear in court (J534).

South African law says that you cannot sue an individual for compensation in light of damages or injuries sustained in a road accident. However, if you are seriously injured in an accident that was not solely your fault, you can claim compensation from the Road Accident Fund (RAF). 

#7 Sell your accident-damaged car 

Once you’ve ticked all the right legal boxes after a traumatic accident, it can feel overwhelming as you contemplate your future without your previous trusted wheels.

Perhaps you could consider a repair (if your vehicle incurred minor damage or is relatively new), but in many cases, the wait time, expense and stress of a repair job makes moving on that much more difficult.

Should you decide to sell your accident-damaged vehicle, make sure you tick the following boxes:

Now you can dust off your hands and rest in the knowledge that you have managed the situation legally and ethically.