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When should you report a car accident?

A car accident can be shocking and highly stressful but it's important you stay calm.

The best way to do this is to prepare yourself should you, unfortunately, be involved in a road accident. 

If you have a car crash or even a minor bump or scrape, following these steps could keep you and other road users safe. They should also help you make a car insurance claim for any damage. 

Person reporting a car accident

What do I do if I have a car crash?

If you’re in a road traffic accident, remember the following:

  • Stop. Pull over, turn off the engine and turn on your hazard lights. That's the red triangle in the middle of the dashboard.
  • Check for any injuries to yourself or any passengers. But make sure it’s safe to leave the car before doing so.
  • Check for injuries to anyone else involved. Make a note of these. You should also make a note if everyone’s unharmed.
  • Call 999 if anyone is injured or the road is blocked. You should also call 999 if you believe the crash was deliberate or if you think drugs or alcohol were involved. If you don't need immediate help, instead call 101 to report the incident. 
  • Move all passengers away from the car. Unless they're injured and unable to be moved.
  • Exchange details with anyone else involved. This includes names, addresses, phone numbers and vehicle registrations.
  • Don’t say sorry. You shouldn’t admit fault if you’re not sure what happened. Although you’re not legally accepting responsibility by apologising, the other party could try to use it against you at a later date.
  • Concentrate on making sure you and your passengers are safe. This includes calling the authorities if needed and exchanging details.

Should I call 999 when reporting a car accident? 

If you need immediate help, call the police on 999 straight away. 

Don't call 999 unless there's an emergency or someone has been injured. 

Minor accidents should instead be reported to 101 within 24 hours. This is the non-emergency police number. 

You should call 999 if:

  • Someone is injured
  • There's debris or vehicles blocking the road
  • The other road user drives away and you don't have their details 
  • You suspect they crashed into you deliberately - potentially for a crash-for-cash scam to make a fraudulent insurance claim
  • The other driver doesn't have a valid driving licence 
  • The other driver doesn’t have insurance
  • The other driver is under the influence of drugs or alcohol
  • The other driver or someone at the scene is being aggressive or threatening 

Do you have to report a minor accident to the police?

You need to report an accident to the police by dialling 101 – the police non-emergency number – within 24 hours.

If you cause any damage to someone’s vehicle or property, no matter how minor, you should stop.

If the other person is at the scene, give them your name, address and your vehicle registration.

You don’t need to leave your insurance details unless someone is injured. But it can speed up the claims process if you do.

If you didn’t exchange details at the scene, you should report the accident to the police within 24 hours.

Leave a note with your details if you can’t locate the owner.

Why do I have to report a car accident?

It’s a legal requirement to stop after an accident, no matter how minor it is. You can find more information on this in the Road Traffic Act.

So if you're unable to speak to the driver of the vehicle, you need to stop, leave your details and report it to the police. 

Driving off after an incident like this can have far greater repercussions. 

You could face a fine, points on your licence or a driving ban.

Also, if you don’t report an accident, someone could claim against you later.

For example, if you bumped into someone’s parked car and drove off. At the time, there might not be anyone around, but you may have been caught on CCTV or someone might've seen you. 

What details should I provide if I’ve had a car accident?

If anyone involved in the accident is injured, you must give your insurance details, including your name, address and the vehicle’s registration.

You must also show them your insurance certificate if they ask for it.

Even if no-one is injured, you could exchange insurance details as it might help speed up the claims process.

It’s worth getting their details, too, as you may have an injury you weren’t aware of at the time of the crash.

Give the car owner’s details if you’re not the vehicle’s owner. 

Do I need to report the accident to my car insurance company?

You should report the accident to your insurer even if you’re not planning to make a car insurance claim.

This is because the other driver might decide to make a claim without you knowing.

You should call your insurer reasonably soon after the accident. Ideally, within 24 hours. 

They may ask for:

  • Your policy number and a form of ID
  • The registration numbers of the cars involved
  • The other driver’s name, address and phone number
  • The other driver’s insurance details, if you have them
  • The time and date of the accident 
  • The conditions of the road - eg weather and road quality 
  • Any dash cam footage of the accident

How long do I have to report a car accident to my insurance company? 

Calling the police and making sure everyone is safe should always be the priority.

But it’s advised that you report any kind of car accident to your insurer as soon as possible.

Most insurers have a limit on the time you have to report an accident. So check the details of your insurer to find out what this is. 

It's usually within 24 hours of the accident occurring.

How long after a car accident can you claim on insurance?

You usually have up to 3 years to make a car insurance claim, although this depends on the insurer. 

It can be a lot shorter so always check your policy details or ask your insurer if you're not sure.

The sooner you make a claim, the sooner it should be paid - if there's a sum of money to be paid out. 

If the claim is complicated it can take a while to sort out. 

Will reporting an accident increase my car insurance cost?

Many different factors affect the cost of car insurance including your age, car and driving experience

If you were deemed to be at fault in the accident, you may see your car insurance costs rise. This is because insurers could see you as a risky driver.

Even if an accident isn’t your fault, you might still see your insurance costs rise. Unfortunately, regardless of who was at fault, making a claim often results in your insurance costs increasing as your insurer needs to recoup any losses.

But, luckily, a non-fault claim shouldn't affect your costs as much as an at-fault claim.

You shouldn’t let this potential price increase stop you from reporting an accident, though.

If you don’t tell your insurer but they find out later, it could invalidate your insurance. You may even find it difficult to get another policy.

Remember, even if you don’t make a claim, an accident needs to be disclosed when you buy insurance in the future.

Find more information on insurance claims

Can I report a car accident online? 

Some police forces allow you to report car accidents online. For example, the Metropolitan Police have a ‘report a road traffic incident’ tool.

You can check your local force’s website to see if they offer this.

But you should always call 999 if it’s an emergency. 

Should I take details at the scene of the car accident?

It’s important to take notes at the time of the accident. The more details you can provide, the better. This helps insurance companies and the police when it comes to working out who’s liable.

You could make a note of the following:

  • The time and date of the accident 
  • The weather and traffic conditions
  • The quality of the road
  • Any road markings or signs
  • What happened in the accident – you could even include sketches
  • The vehicle type, colour, make, model and registration
  • An estimate of the speed the other vehicle was travelling and in what direction
  • The other car’s condition
  • The number of passengers in the other vehicle
  • Details about the driver, such as contact information and a description
  • Any witnesses or CCTV cameras
  • Any damage to vehicles or property, as well as any injuries
  • Any potential dashcam footage that could be used as evidence

How to pay for a car accident without involving insurance

You may choose not to make an insurance claim. This could be because you want to cover the repair costs yourself or you want to protect your no-claims discount

Keep any and all receipts if you choose to settle the costs with the other driver and not through an insurance claim. Be clear with the other driver and make sure you both understand who's paying what. 

If either party involved in the accident can't afford the repair costs, consider making a claim instead.  

Please note, even if you don’t make a claim, you should still report the accident to your insurer.

Will there be a police prosecution after a car accident?

This depends on the accident and how serious it was. But, typically, somebody has to commit a criminal offence for there to be a prosecution. 

In most scenarios, if there's a serious accident and especially if people have been hurt, there's usually a police prosecution afterwards.

But if the accident has just resulted in minor damage to you or someone else’s vehicle, this is usually handled by your insurance company.

The Road Traffic Act 1988 governs most criminal driving offences. According to this act, there could be a police prosecution if:

  • Dangerous driving is suspected
  • Careless or inconsiderate driving is suspected
  • Someone was severely injured or killed
  • Driving under the influence of drink or drugs is suspected
  • An uninsured, disqualified or unlicensed driver was involved 

Reporting a car accident: Key points

Keep this checklist to refer to if you’re in a car accident:

  • If in doubt, report the accident – both to the police and to your insurer
  • Take as many details from the other parties as possible - any notes you take at the time can be useful should there be any legal or insurance implications further down the line
  • Note down the details of any other drivers - you need to give these to your insurer
  • Report the incident to your insurer - you should report the accident within 24 hours
  • Gather all the details together - if you need to make an insurance claim, do so as soon as possible using this information