What to do when involved in a motor vehicle accident

January 2018

#roadrules #accidents #2018

Philip Swanepoel (BA Law, LLB, LLM)

Motor vehicle accidents are unfortunately something many South African road users will experience at one time or another. A lack of knowledge or uncertainty on the side of road users as to the correct procedures that should be followed when involved in a motor vehicle accident often exacerbates the traumatic effect of accidents. This article will briefly discuss the correct procedure that should be followed by those involved in accidents, as prescribed by law, in an attempt to mitigate the traumatic effect of accidents. The relevant legislation in this regard is the National Road Traffic Act 93 of 1996 from which the following step-by-step procedure can be distilled: stop; assess damage/injuries; exchange details; report to police; and do not interfere with potential evidence.

All those involved in an accident should immediately stop if someone in the involved vehicles have sustained injuries, if any property was damaged, or if any animals were injured. One should then immediately determine if anyone was injured and if so, how severe the injury is. It is important to note that section 61(1)(c) of this act places an obligation on anyone involved in a car accident to help those injured to the extent that they are able to do so. It is best to immediately contact emergency services if any person(s) have been injured.

One should, after determining the damage and injuries caused as discussed above, exchange contact and personal information with anyone who has good reason to request such information from you (i.e. all the parties involved in the accident). This is not only a requirement in law, but will also be to your benefit if you or your insurance company wants to claim damages from the other party if he or she acted negligently or if you want to claim damages from the Road Accident Fund. These details should include the full names of the different parties, the motor vehicle models and registration numbers, addresses where the parties reside, and contact details such as telephone numbers.

It is not necessary to call the police out to an accident if there are no injuries, but it is important to note that accidents must be reported to the police since failure to do so is regarded as a criminal offence. This reporting can either be done on the scene of the accident if a traffic officer or police officer is present or at a police station within 24 hours after the accident, unless it is impossible to do so due to injuries – one must then just report it as soon as is practically possible. Click here for more information regarding the reporting procedure (https://www.saps.gov.za/faqdetail.php?fid=10 ).

It is furthermore important to note that you may not interfere with evidence at the accident scene. There are two dimensions relevant to this discussion. You are firstly not allowed to move vehicles involved in an accident in which any person has been killed or injured, unless it is absolutely necessary to do so in order to allow for the passage of traffic. However, the position of the motor vehicle on the road should be clearly marked before it is moved.

The second dimension of this prohibition to interfere with evidence relates to the driver's intoxication levels. Section 61(1)(g) of the National Road Traffic Act prohibits any driver who have been involved in an accident from consuming any drugs which might have a narcotic effect on the driver, including alcohol, immediately following the accident, unless it was administered by a medical practitioner for shock or injury. One may only consume such substances after reporting the accident and only after medical examination (if such examination was required by a traffic officer).

The abovementioned procedure should always be followed by any driver involved in an accident. It is furthermore advisable to take as many photos of the accident scene with your cell phone as possible as this might be valuable evidence later. One should also always remain calm and polite in order to prevent the situation from further escalating. Lastly, it is best not to admit fault whilst still on the scene, even if you do at the time think that you were the negligent driver. Rather consult with your insurance company and lawyer first.


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