Staying composed at the scene is essential if you're to report the accident properly and get all of the information you need.

This means having a clear idea of what you need to do, and in what order. Here's what you need to know:

At the scene of a car accident

Remember

Do not admit fault or say anything that implies you're responsible because this could make things more difficult later on.

First things first: if you're involved in a car crash put your hazard lights on and get out of the car once it's safe to do so. Whatever you do, don't leave the scene of the accident.

The most important thing to do is make sure everybody involved - drivers and passengers - are alright. If anyone is badly hurt ring 999 immediately.

Once you've checked everyone involved, you need to get as much information as you can while at the scene; driving off is far worse than staying to face the music, and can be classed as a hit-and-run.

Should you call the police?

Bumps and scrapes in a car park are often dealt with privately, and even some road accidents don't need to be reported. However, you're legally bound to notify the police of every accident where:

  • someone is injured

  • there is damage to someone's property

  • a driver directly involved failed to stop or exchange details

If you can't drive away from the scene or someone's hurt, the crash is serious enough to call the police there and then.

You should also call the police to the scene if your cars are stuck in a dangerous spot on the road (such as a blind bend) or if the accident is obstructing traffic. Call 999 for emergencies and 101 for non-emergencies.

On the other hand if both cars can be driven away from the scene, no one's injured and drivers have exchanged details, you don't need to call the police immediately - you can do so later.

Report the accident

Important:

If you intend to make an insurance claim then ALWAYS report it. You'll need the report number to file your claim.

Even if the accident isn't major enough to need reporting at the scene, you still have 24 hours to file a report in person at a police station. This gives you some leeway if damage turns out to be more significant than first thought.

Despite the law saying they should, drivers sometimes agree not to report an accident if the damage is very minor. At the very least you should note down their number plate in case they give you false contact details.

Exchange information

It's vital that you get the details of all drivers that were actively involved in the crash, plus anyone whose vehicle might have been a factor. Remember that this applies to you every bit as much as it applies to other drivers.

Drivers cannot legally withhold personal details if someone is injured, if a vehicle or property is damaged, or if an animal is killed / injured. Not handing over details is classed as failure to stop.

In all cases you should ask for:

  1. Vehicle registration number

  2. Name and address of the driver

  3. Name and address of the vehicle owner (if different)

If someone was injured you can also request to see the driver's certificate of insurance. You have 7 days to produce the certificate if it's requested of you.

You should also try to get the names and badge numbers of any attending police officers.

Immediately after the accident

If you are injured or in shock then you may not be able to collect all of the information you need, but it's definitely worthwhile getting as much as you can.

As soon as possible, try to write down an account of what happened. If you don't have a pen and paper, maybe your phone has a voice recording app? Try to include details such as:

  • the time and date

  • your exact memory of what happened

  • who was using headlights and/or indicating

  • the weather, visibility and road conditions

  • injuries to anyone involved

  • the damage to each vehicle

  • passers-by

  • the make, model and colour of all other cars involved

If you have a camera or smartphone, it can be really helpful to take some photos of the accident scene. Alternatively, try and produce a quick sketch of the accident scene (you won't be able to use it as evidence, but it will help you remember how the accident played out).

Can you call your breakdown service after a car accident?

If your car can be fixed by the side of the road you'll still have to get permission from the police before calling your breakdown cover; many but not all providers will attend post-accident for roadside assistance.

On the other hand, most breakdown services don't offer vehicle recovery in response to an accident. Check your breakdown policy so you know one way or the other before an accident even happens.

If the police organise your vehicle's recovery, or request that you use a certain company, you may be able to claim back the cost from your car insurance otherwise you'll need to consult the police and your insurer to find local recovery companies or a garage if you need a tow.

If you were in a company car or driving within the course of your employment, you'll need to phone your company and inform them of the crash. Ask what your next steps should be, as your employer may wish to arrange recover and contact the insurer internally.

Inform your insurance company

Once you're home (and if you haven't already) the next step is letting your insurance provider know. You'll need to do this within their stated time period even if you don't want to claim: not doing so can invalidate your policy.

Don't say anything that could be construed as an admission of liability. You should answer your insurer's questions honestly but try to wait until submitting an official, written statement before telling your side of the story.

Hit by an uninsured driver?

If the other driver doesn't stop or have insurance (check with the askMID) then this is what you need to do:

  • Tell the police by calling 999 if anyone is hurt or you're blocking traffic, otherwise report the accident to your local station within 24 hours. Tell them if you've been hit by an uninsured driver, victim of a 'hit and run' or suspect fraud.

  • Check your policy to see if you have uninsured driver protection, find out exactly what it covers and decide whether to claim.

  • If you have comprehensive cover and won't have to pay anything extra then lodge a claim with your insurer.

  • If you don't have uninsured driver protection and the cost of repairs is significant then an insurance claim is still likely to be best. However, you may be able to get some of your excess or loss of NCD back from the MIB.

  • If you have third party cover tell your insurer about the accident, then claim for MIB compensation. They'll investigate and could reimburse you some of the cost minus a 300 'fee'.

The best way to protect yourself is with car insurance that includes uninsured driver protection and NCD protection.