Being involved in a car accident is a risk most of us routinely take as a driver or passenger of a vehicle. While recently there have been many upgrades for car safety that ensure better outcomes for all involved, accidents still occur, and being involved in one can be quite stressful. Fortunately, there are a few simple steps to make sure you handle the situation in the best possible way.
- After experiencing a car crash, ensure that your vehicle is stopped at the scene of the
- accident or the next safest area. This seems like the most obvious move – but your
- adrenaline levels will be pumping, so you may have difficulty making clear decisions.
- Afterwards, make sure your hazard lights are on to inform other drivers of the car crash.
- This is a small yet important step as you don’t want any other cars colliding with you.
Before exiting your parked car, you must assess the situation. If you see any fire or
smoke, then you should immediately leave your vehicle. If there is busy traffic all around
you, or if the situation outside is worsening, then you should stay inside the vehicle until help arrives. If there are any passengers in your car, check them over. If they have any
serious injuries, ensure to seek medical assistance and call 000 as soon as you can. If this is a minor injury, you can also apply first aid yourself if you know how – and if doing so is not putting yourself in danger. Even if your passengers do not appear to have any injuries, it’s best to get them – and yourself – checked over later, just in case.
Once you’ve finished the first important checks, you should take care of reporting the accident to the police. You are not required to call the police to the scene of a minor accident where your vehicle is not obstructing the traffic. However, there are situations where you might consider doing so – for example, if there is another dangerous vehicle on-site, or if you have reasons to suspect that the other driver may be under the influence of drugs or alcohol. The police can also help you write a crash report if they attend the scene. Otherwise, provided that no one is seriously injured or killed, you can take care of the crash reporting formalities later at the police station.
If medical assistance and police arrive, do not leave the scene and make sure to wait for their instructions. At this stage, you can start exchanging details with the other driver or drivers involved. If no ambulance or police need to attend, then exchanging details is all that’s needed.
While reporting the accident, you must provide details such as the vehicle’s driver’s and owner’s name, address, and the vehicle’s registration number. All the cars involved must provide this information, and vehicle owners need to exchange details regardless of the damage to your vehicle. Ensure you update others later on if you are in between moving and plan to change your address, or if any of your other personal details become invalid.
How to sort out tow trucks, insurance claims, and other important matters regarding your car accident
After having been involved in a car accident, you’ll often need to take care of organising tow trucks (if you need your vehicle towed away) and lodging insurance claims (these may be handled differently depending on insurance policies).
If you need a tow truck for your vehicle, you must first contact your insurer about it.
Some insurers will be able to organise a tow truck for you – or they may give you a tow
truck provider’s number and talk you through this process. If you are not sure whether your insurance covers this, you can check these details in your insurance policy. Reviewing product disclosure statements will also give you some information on insurance policy limits.
In the process of organising a tow truck to come to the scene of the accident, make sure you never sign a blank tow authority form or an incomplete one. Instead, always check that the address of where the car will be towed to is included, as well as the fee. Ideally, you should also read through the terms and conditions before signing off. If you are not willing to do so, at least skim-read them so that you do not miss out on anything important.
Your roadside assistance can also be used for your towing needs to tow your vehicle to the nearest mechanic in the area. As roadside assistance is a service you receive if you experience a breakdown and is not typically used in a car crash, keep in mind that its cover for towing services is usually limited to a certain amount. This means that you may need to pay for additional costs that arise.
As you go through the insurance claims process, you must never admit fault to any of the other people involved, even if you do believe it is your fault. This should apply even if you’re talking to witnesses, the police, or other drivers, as it is very easy to panic and admit fault when this isn’t actually the case. Also, admitting fault can make your insurance claims process a lot more difficult than it needs to be.
Keep in mind that the situation has already happened and apologising or admitting fault will not fix it – but it can make it worse.
Insurance companies are there to do the arguing, so make sure to contact your insurer as soon as possible. They’ll be happy to hear you have not made any important decisions without their help. Just remember that how your claim proceeds will differ depending on several factors, such as whether a driver involved is uninsured, the insurance product, and if you have comprehensive car insurance or not.
Preparing a letter of demand
As the name suggests, a letter of demand is sent to the other party asking for money. If the money is not paid, this letter warns the other party that a court case by you may be started. If your car was damaged during a car accident and the other driver or drivers are at fault, then you may consider writing a letter of demand. If you do, you must clearly communicate your needs to the other party and you must state that you believe they are at fault. If you do end up going to court, your letter can be used as evidence as it shows you have already requested money.
In the best-case scenario, on receiving the letter, the other party will agree with your claims and will organise a payment. Other possible outcomes include them denying they were at fault or claiming they were only partly at fault. They may also ask for more information or negotiate with you to try and lower the amount payable. Additionally, they may ask to go to mediation to be involved in the process of dispute resolution (a structured negotiation process) – or they may choose to just do nothing. You do not necessarily need a lawyer to write a letter of demand, but, if you are requesting a substantial amount of money or are not sure how to write a demand letter, you should consider seeking professional help.
You may also receive – or be asked to lodge – statutory declarations concerning your car accident. A statutory declaration refers to a written statement that you declare is correct and true in the presence of authorised witnesses. You may be charged with a criminal offence if the information is not true. It is always a good idea to consult your lawyer before signing one.
Other important information regarding car accidents involving your motor vehicle
Following the accident, your car will go through vehicle inspections and may be found too dangerous to drive. Depending on the extent of the damage, your car may be written off. Getting a write-off means that your car is either financially impractical to get fixed or is too unsafe to drive. After consulting your insurers, it’s usually their call to write off your car. Insurers usually make this decision depending on the laws in your state.
Your car will be considered unsafe or uneconomical to repair if there is excessive water
damage, fire damage, structural damage, or stripping damage. Also, if the salvage and cost value of your car repairs is higher than the price you originally insured it for, your car loan amount, and market value, then this will also contribute to the final decision.
You may also receive a license suspension or demerit points if the accident was your fault. The number of demerit points you receive depends on the driving offences or traffic offences you commit. The demerit points received may differ slightly depending on the state you live in. If you are in South Australia, accumulating 16 to 20 demerit points means your license will be suspended for four months. (Any license suspension queries can be answered at your state government website.) Demerit points will be removed from your record after 2-3 years from the date of your last offence. They can also be removed by passing a defensive driving test to a satisfactory standard. If you have an international driving permit, it will also be suspended until your license is revoked.
There are also time limit laws implemented in some states of Australia, such as in New South Wales, that set time limits for driving. This is known as the fatigue law and contains provisions relating to offences that are caused by fatigue. A standard Australian rule is that you cannot drive for more than 12 hours. So, on long road trips, before you get into the car and drive, ensure to plan some stopovers. It is also recommended to factor in fuel prices and other practical considerations before going on a long road trip.
Compulsory Third Party (CTP) insurance covers people who are killed or injured in car accidents involving your vehicle. In SA, the CTP insurance premium is charged every time you renew your vehicle registration. CTP does not cover any property damage or vehicles involved or the loss and damage of your own vehicle. Contents insurance is something you may want to look into if you want to cover the cost of possessions in the car.
More car insurance and dispute resolutions options to consider
If you are using your car for business purposes in Australia, you might consider purchasing business insurance for it. Business car insurance tends to cost more than regular insurance due to the higher liability limits and greater risks these policies cover. However, this insurance can still prove to be a good idea in case an accident occurs, as business users usually do drive for longer and at busier times on the road. Remember to always check the relevant laws in your state regarding the use of your car for work or business purposes.
The Civil and Administrative Tribunal is a tribunal that is available for all disputes relating to cars in Australia as well as other disputes. Their acronyms differ depending on which state you are in. For example, the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal (QCAT) has the acronym ‘QCAT’ whereas the South Australian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (SACAT) is called ‘SACAT.’ This tribunal can be used for help with resolving issues that fall into specific areas of law, by either an agreement through mediation and conciliation or at a hearing.
Need more information? If you’ve been involved in a car accident and need free legal advice on how to handle it in the best way possible, we at C+F Lawyers are always there for you!