What to do if you’re in (or wit­ness) a mo­tor-ve­hi­cle ac­ci­dent

Winnipeg Free Press - Section F - - AUTOS - By Brian Turner

DEPEND­ING on dis­tance and where we drive, it’s al­most in­evitable we’ll end up in a mo­tor ve­hi­cle col­li­sion or dam­age some­thing in the course of a mo­tor­ing ca­reer. Though we all think of our­selves as pru­dent risk man­agers, are we re­ally pre­pared in case of a col­li­sion?

Here are a few tips for collisions on pub­lic roads (pri­vate-property/parking­in­ci­dents are an­other mat­ter). We all want to be help­ful and en­sure we take re­spon­si­bil­ity for our ac­tions, but it’s wise to be care­ful of our be­hav­iour and choice of words when deal­ing with oth­ers in a col­li­sion. Some people can get quite emo­tional over ve­hi­cle dam­age, and it’s best to ap­proach with cau­tion.

Ren­der as­sis­tance. The first words that should come from your mouth are: “Is any­one hurt?” Never start with “I’m sorry,” as it could be in­ter­preted as an ad­mis­sion of li­a­bil­ity.

If any­one is vis­i­bly in­jured, the first ac­tion should be to call 911. Don’t for­get to check yourself. In case of in­jury, po­lice must be no­ti­fied as well as your in­sur­ance com­pany. Po­lice in just about all Cana­dian ju­ris­dic­tions can lay charges un­der both provin­cial and federal leg­is­la­tion for fail­ure to re­port a ve­hi­cle col­li­sion, with a crim­i­nal record be­ing a dis­tinct pos­si­bil­ity as well as fines.

Make the scene safe. If traf­fic con­di­tions and/or the place­ment and con­di­tion of the ve­hi­cles are risky, move pas­sen­gers to a safe lo­ca­tion while await­ing ser­vice re­sponse. Most po­lice will rec­om­mend mov­ing the ve­hi­cles off the trav­elled lane(s) if it’s pos­si­ble and safe to do so.

Check for any fluid that may be leak­ing from the ve­hi­cles be­fore mak­ing this move. You may ex­pose traf­fic to a con­sid­er­able risk if enough slip­pery oils or flu­ids have leaked onto the road’s sur­face. If it’s dark and there are no street lights, en­gage the four-way flash­ers, de­ploy re­flec­tive tri­an­gles or flares if avail­able, or get some­one with a flash­light to warn on­com­ing traf­fic. If there are flames of any type in the dam­aged ve­hi­cle, leave them to fire­fight­ers and move ev­ery­one a safe dis­tance back. Ve­hi­cle fires are too un­pre­dictable to han­dle yourself.

Know your rights and obli­ga­tions. By law, you are re­quired to pro­vide your name, your ve­hi­cle type and in­sur­ance in­for­ma­tion to other driver(s). If you sus­pect some­one is giv­ing you false in­for­ma­tion, take spe­cific note of their li­cence-plate num­ber. Property-dam­age lim­its re­quir­ing manda­tory po­lice no­ti­fi­ca­tion vary from prov­ince to prov­ince, rang­ing from $1,000 to $2,000, but just a few scratches, scrapes or dents can eas­ily ex­ceed those lim­its. If you think you can avoid in­sur­ance-pre­mium jumps by not fil­ing a re­port with your cov­er­age car­rier, think again. If the other driver files and cor­rectly iden­ti­fies your ve­hi­cle, your in­sur­ance com­pany will be no­ti­fied. If there is third-party property dam­age, you must no­tify your in­surer. In­sur­ance com­pa­nies can ap­ply a pre­mium in­crease based on these re­ports, deny you a re­newal or even can­cel your cov­er­age for fail­ure to re­port.

Take pho­tos. Just about ev­ery­one has a phone cam­era, so be­fore the ve­hi­cles are moved, use it to snap some shots of the scene. If you feel safe to do so, take shots of the other driver and any pas­sen­gers. It may help your in­sur­ance com­pany, and you, if any fraud­u­lent in­jury claims are made.

Col­lect data. This is es­pe­cially im­por­tant if po­lice have not been called. Take down the driver’s name, ve­hi­cle de­scrip­tion, li­cence plate num­ber and in­sur­ance info. Note the date, time, lo­ca­tion and any per­ti­nent de­tails such as road, weather or light­ing con­di­tions. Get names and con­tact in­for­ma­tion of wit­nesses. It’s best to use those who weren’t trav­el­ling in any of the ve­hi­cles in­volved. Get the po­lice-re­port num­ber and name of the at­tend­ing of­fi­cer.

Look and lis­ten. If you feel it’s safe to drive your ve­hi­cle away from the scene af­ter all the re­ports and pa­per­work are done, take a short drive down a lesstrav­elled road to check for any un­usual noises or me­chan­i­cal prob­lems at lower speeds.

Know when to tow. Re­mem­ber, it’s your right to have your ve­hi­cle taken to the re­pair shop of your choice by the tow­ing ser­vice of your choice, al­though in ex­treme cir­cum­stances on ma­jor high­ways, po­lice can or­der an at­tend­ing ser­vice truck to re­move your ve­hi­cle for the sake of ex­pe­di­ency to re­store traf­fic flow.

Lis­ten to med­i­cal ad­vice. If paramedics on the scene ad­vise get­ting a more thor­ough checkup at the hospi­tal, fol­low their di­rec­tions. The mind and body can de­lay symp­toms and a seem­ingly mi­nor fen­der-ben­der can lead to ma­jor pain the next day.

Get on the phone. No­tify your in­sur­ance com­pany as soon as pos­si­ble if it’s a re­portable claim. Most com­pa­nies have a short time frame, less than seven days on aver­age, to activate a claim.

Drive safely.

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