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