Whether you're a first time driver, an avid car collector or a seasoned road warrior – one thing remains constant; car insurance in South Africa is a necessity, not a luxury. In this country, where 70% of the motorists are uninsured, 60% don't wear seat belts and countless more drink and drive, it becomes more a question of when, rather than if, an unfortunate accident may ever occur.
Regardless of where this accident happens, how it happens or when it happens, it's important to know exactly what to do. You need to know how to deal with the other drivers involved in the accident, but you also need to know how to conduct yourself.
When the time comes for you to claim from your insurer, you don't want that claim rejected because of something silly you might have said or done. So, in this article we'll help you identify what to do, what not to do and what to be aware of – should you ever be unfortunate enough to be involved in a collision.
When it comes to the settlement of personal injury claims, it depends almost entirely on the extent to which each driver involved is found to be at fault. Who skipped the red light? Which person wasn't paying attention?
Needless to say, nobody wants to be that person.
If a single motorist is found to be 100% at fault, that person may be held liable for all the material damages which resulted from the accident. If there's more than one person at fault, each will be held partially liable, depending on how accountable they were.
Of course, the damage to your vehicle isn't the worst thing that could happen in a car collision or accident. The fatality rate on our roads is staggeringly high, and many more people are horribly injured each and every day. Even a minor injury can snowball and create problems you really don't want.
It's important to note that there's a distinction here between material damages – damages to the vehicles or possessions – and bodily injury.
Bodily injury damages can currently only be recovered from the Road Accident Fund (but who knows what will happen if the Road Accident Benefit Scheme comes to light).
So, naturally, nobody wants to admit fault in the event of an accident. Some people may even attempt to trick you into accepting responsibility, even though you might not have done anything wrong. Here are a few tips to keep your hands clean.
If possible, the first step is to remove your vehicle from the road in a safe and orderly manner. Pull over onto the side. If your vehicle is still operational and you choose to flee the scene of the accident, you could find yourself in deep trouble. It doesn't look good at all. This could result in receiving a huge fine or even serving jail time.
Even if you pull over, you need to stay at the scene. The last thing you want is for the police to receive a bunch of one-sided information from the other motorists involved. Once you've stopped in a safe area, assess yourself and your passengers for any bodily harm. Then, assess the injury to any other motorists involved. If there are any medical emergencies, you need to call for emergency assistance right away.
If you have insurance, your insurer probably has an emergency assistance contact which you can use to arrange medical treatment.
All too often, the matter is incredibly serious. Don't be a hero unless you absolutely have to. For instance, removing a person from a terrible car wreck could do a lot more harm if you don't know what you're doing. Their neck or spine may be injured, and could be aggravated if you do not have the right tools and knowledge to remove them from the wreck properly.
This is a legal requirement. If you're insured, you'll also need an accident report number from the police in order for the insurer to proceed. So, this is your next step.
You may encounter a guilty motorist offering to pay for the damages themselves, pleading with you to not involve the police. Perhaps they've been drinking, or they were playing with their phones while driving. The damages, also, may appear minor.
The other person involved could even be a sweet old granny, but don't listen to her, because she's a liar.
It's always possible to report the incident at the police station on the way home. So long as it is reported within 24 hours of the incident. This isn't recommended, though. Somebody may have been injured, killed, or government property may have been damaged, without your knowledge. So, regardless, and just to be on the safe side, report the accident to the police right away.
Bear in mind that you're not obligated to give the police any verbal statements if you don't want to. Many people, under these circumstances, would rather have a lawyer draw up an official statement. If you have nothing to worry about, however, and feel confident in what you have to say, then go right ahead.
Always request a full copy of the report. A police report is one of the most important pieces of evidence when insurers determine liability in the event of an accident. This is one of the main reasons why you need to stay at the scene – to make sure that the report corroborates your side of the story as well.
You will need to exchange personal details with all other motorists involved. You need to get the following information:
Take all the relevant personal details, as well as insurance details of the other driver. Then, ask any bystanders if they wouldn't mind providing you with eyewitness accounts and get their contact details as well. Take photos of the damage to all involved vehicles – the more the better. Write down everything you can remember about the incident – time, date, location and what happened. Make note of the traffic flow or the weather conditions. Do this as soon as possible, while you can remember everything.
Finally, take a photo of the other person's driver's licence.
The other person should take all of your details, as well.
If you're too injured to perform this task, you could ask a police officer to gather this information on your behalf. If police visit the scene, it doesn't hurt to take their names as well, and don't forget the accident report number.
Emotions run high, adrenaline is pumping, and people tend to say or do things they may later come to regret. It's vitally important to keep your cool – and do so without a glass of wine or heavy medication.
It's always better to say a lot less than you absolutely need to. Anything you may say, even if you're just cracking a joke, could later come back to haunt you.
Never admit blame for anything. Avoid saying anything like, “I didn't see you coming” or “I was looking for my cigarette lighter under the seat.”
These will be considered admissions of fault. Say nothing.
A lot of people might also choose to refuse medical treatment, which is incredibly unwise. Injuries could only surface a few days later. Let them check you out – it's only in your best interest.
Also, don't assure the other drivers that your insurance will cover the damages. Don't offer to pay for any damages. In fact, don't even talk about money. You don't want to risk sounding like you're offering a bribe and you don't want anybody to know how much your insurance policy pays out. Again, silence is golden.
Many insurers strictly forbid any statements of indemnity, payment, promises, offers or admissions. So, it's a lot wiser to keep the small-talk to a bare minimum.
If you're completely unsure of what to say, consult a lawyer or your broker. You need to contact your insurer anyway, but by this point, you should have avoided incriminating yourself.
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