It is probably one of a motorist’s worst fears, particularly if you are a new driver, to be involved in an accident. When it happens, panic often sets in and many motorists are not aware of exactly what is required of them. This can often lead to chaos and confusion and in that instance, your legal obligations may not be at the forefront of your mind, especially if there is a significant level of damage or injury to either yourself or others.
The term “accident” could be anything from a minor scrape to a full-blown collision, with potentially fatal consequences. If you’re unsure of your legal obligations when and if an incident happens, then look no further, as we explain exactly what the law requires you to do.
Failing to Stop and Report a Road Traffic Accident
The law that governs this is largely section 170 of the Road Traffic Act and the offence that many motorists may find themselves charged with is “Failing to stop/report”, which covers the duties placed on motorists. Section 170 has eight sub-sections and, as with any piece of legislation, it is often beneficial to break it down to clearly identify what it requires.
The section applies when a motorist is on a road or in a public place and an accident occurs by which:
1. Personal injury is caused to somebody other than the driver of that vehicle; or
2. Damage is caused to a vehicle other than that vehicle; or
3. To an animal (other than one in the vehicle); or
4. To any other property on the land in which the accident occurred.
So in the first instance, if nobody (and no animal) is injured and no damage was caused, then there are no legal obligations for you to do anything, but be mindful that “damage” and “injury” can literally be the slightest of scratches to a person or property, whether it be the other vehicle or a nearby tree. If any of the above has occurred, then the driver of the vehicle must stop and – this is often a crucial component – “if” required to do so by any person having “reasonable grounds” for requiring, give their name and address and that of the person who owns the vehicle, in addition to the registration plate.
So the first thing is that you must stop. If you don’t stop for any reason, then you can be charged with the offence of “Failing to stop/report”, unless you later report the accident. After you have stopped, if (and only if) someone who has reasonable grounds requires information from you, then that is what you must give. Whether somebody has “reasonable grounds” is not defined in law, but obviously the driver of the other vehicle would meet that criteria. And the same would be true for the owner of any nearby property that was damaged. If the accident involves any element of personal injury, then the driver has an additional obligation to produce a certificate of insurance. If, at the time of the accident, it is not produced to someone who has reasonable grounds, or to a police station at the scene, then the accident must be reported and an insurance certificate produced to the police.
In respect of “reporting” the accident, the law is clear that it must be reported:
λ at a police station; or
λ to a police constable;
λ as soon as reasonably practicable, and within 24 hours.
A motorist who reports the accident within 24 hours, but does not produce an insurance certificate, can still be prosecuted, unless he reports back to the specified police station with the insurance certificate within seven days. And for the avoidance of doubt, the term “animal” in this legislation relates only to horses, cattle, ass, mule, sheep, pig, goat or a dog (sorry cats!).
Given the fact that “injury” and “damage” are both extremely broad terms, the sentencing guidelines are also rather wide, to ensure the penalty is proportionate to the offence. The minimum penalty for this offence (where there is minor damage/injury, or if you stopped but didn’t exchange details) is five or six points, in addition to a fine. The most serious cases (involving serious damage/injury and where there is evidence of bad driving) could land you in prison for up to 26 weeks.
Motoring Defence Solicitors are road traffic lawyers specialising in drink and drug driving offences. Based out of their central London offices, they provide free advice on a range of offences to motorists nationwide. You can contact Neil Sargeant for free on 0800 433 2880 or visit the website at www.drinkdrugdriving.co.uk.