What to do if you have been in a road traffic accident

However good or careful a driver you are, the chances are that at some point in your life you will be involved in a road traffic accident, whether that is as a driver, a passenger, a pedestrian, a biker or a cyclist. This guide provides some helpful information about what you need to do if you are involved in a road traffic accident.

What to do at the scene of the accident

If you have been involved in a traffic accident then you must stop if anyone is injured, if a vehicle or property is damaged, if an animal in another vehicle or on the road is injured, or if an item of street furniture such as a sign, street light or bollard is damaged. This is the case regardless of whether or not the accident was your fault.

If you are involved in a road accident you will of course not have been expecting it, and even if you are not badly injured you will probably still be in shock and will therefore possibly be confused and won’t be thinking clearly. However, there are a few steps that you should take at the scene of any accident which will help going forward, so you should try to remember to do the following:

  • Take photos of the accident if it is safe to do so. This should include close up photos of damage done to all of the vehicles involved, as well as photos taken of those vehicles within the area and photos of the roads and surroundings to show the context of the accident. This has generally been made easier these days with people carrying smart phones with built in cameras, but if you don’t have a camera on you, at least make a sketch if possible.
  • Exchange details with the other parties involved in the accident. This should include their names, addresses, phone numbers, car registration number and insurance details. If the owner of the car is different to the driver of the car, make sure you have the details of both.
  • Take the details of witnesses if there are any.
  • Take notes of the other parties’ vehicles, including the car registration number, the make and model, the colour, the age of the vehicle and the damage done to the vehicle. Ideally, have photographic evidence of all of this as well, as this is useful proof of what has happened, and is a useful backup in case you lose your notes following the accident.

You should not discuss the accident with the other party, such as who was in the wrong, and you should definitely not admit liability if you want to make a claim against them. Do not discuss the process of reporting it to the insurance company either.

Regardless of whether the accident was your fault or not you should report it to your insurance company as soon as possible. You should also report the accident to the police, as you do not know what the other party might do in the future, such as deny any involvement in the accident or blame you.

Common causes of accidents

Just because you are involved in a road traffic accident doesn’t mean that it is your fault, as there are a wide range of causes that can lead to a road traffic accident. However, you need to be able to prove that the accident was the fault of the other party involved and not yours if you wish to make a claim against them. Common causes of road traffic accidents are:

  • Driver error – This includes drivers being negligent or reckless, and is the most common cause of road accidents. A number of things can lead a driver to be negligent and stop concentrating on the road, therefore causing an accident, including having consumed alcohol or taken drugs before driving, eating or drinking whilst driving, using a mobile phone whilst driving, or changing music whilst driving. This also includes drivers doing something reckless like speeding, ignoring traffic signs or being distracted by activities inside and outside of the car.
  • Weather conditions – bad weather conditions such as heavy rain, fog, snow, ice and wind can be contributing factors in many road traffic accidents.
  • Road maintenance – potholes, cracks in the road, poor road signs, construction work, faulty traffic lights and general poor quality roads can all lead to road traffic accidents.
  • Car malfunction – a problem with the vehicle, such as brakes failing, the steering wheel not working or poor road tyre traction can lead to a car accident
  • Sudden illness – If a driver suddenly becomes ill, for examples has a heart attack, they will not be prosecuted, but may still be liable to pay compensation, but this will be covered by their insurance.

Sometimes it is obvious who caused the accident and liability won’t be disputed, but it is not always that straight forward, and in those cases you will need to seek expert legal advice. It should be noted that in general if one driver drives into the back of another driver, the driver behind is liable, regardless of whether the car in front braked sharply or did something silly, because you are supposed to drive a safe distance from other vehicles.

Seeking medical help

If you have been injured as a result of a road traffic accident that you have been involved in then you should seek appropriate medical assistance. This might involve calling an ambulance, going to your nearest Accident & Emergency unit, or getting an appointment with your GP, depending on the severity of your injuries. A medical diagnosis of your injuries will be extremely useful when it comes to making a claim, but it is also important to get checked out to make sure you have not suffered any internal injuries.

Whiplash is the most common type of injury received following a car accident and is the most common type of car accident claim. Whiplash is an injury to the neck which is caused by a very sudden and violent movement of the head forwards and backwards, which generally happens on impact in a vehicle collision. The symptoms include pain and stiffness when moving the head and sometimes headaches. These injuries can be minor and should clear up quite quickly, but sometimes they can continue for a long period of time following the accident.

Other common injuries include airbag injuries, seat belt injuries and child restraint injuries, and symptoms include concussion, broken bones, cuts, bruises, internal injuries, and psychological injuries.

Making a claim

You can claim for any pain and injuries caused by your accident, any care or treatment that you have to receive, any inconvenience caused by the accident, any damage to your vehicle or property, and any money lost as a result of your accident, such as money lost from taking time off work.

Whilst you might feel nervous about making a claim, it is important to remember that all motorists are required by law to have motor insurance, and the reason they are insured is to cover the costs of any accidents that they are involved in. Therefore you shouldn’t feel guilty about making a claim. If you have suffered losses and the other party was at fault, it is better for you if their insurance company covers your costs rather than dealing with the expenses yourself. This worry often applies when you have been a passenger in the vehicle of a friend or family member who has been responsible for an accident. Again, compensation is needed to help aid your recovery, but remember that it is the insurance company paying out, not the driver.

If you have been injured in an accident and the accident wasn’t your fault, but it was caused by another driver then the claim is made against their insurance company. If the accident was caused by a problem with the road then the claim is made against the Highways Agency.

In order to make a claim you should contact a solicitor to provide you with legal representation. You will need to be able to prove that the accident was the fault of the other party. You should tell your solicitor what happened and provide them with as much information as possible so that they can proceed with your claim. The information that you will need to provide to your solicitor includes the following:

  • Your personal information – name, address, phone number etc.
  • Date and details of the accident as detailed above
  • Details of the other party and of any witnesses
  • Any information collected on the day of the accident or afterwards
  • Any police reports
  • Any medical reports or diagnosis

Once you have provided this information to your solicitor they can start the process of making your claim, but they may need further information from you as the claim progresses, including information on your recovery.

If you were driving illegally, you will not be in a strong position to make a claim, regardless of whether or not the accident was your fault. Driving illegally includes:

  • Driving a stolen vehicle
  • Driving without a licence, tax, MOT or insurance
  • Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs
  • Driving despite having been disqualified from driving
  • Driving alone using a provisional licence
  • Driving an unsafe vehicle

Who can claim?

It is important to remember that it is not just drivers that are able to make a claim following an accident, but also passengers, pedestrians, motorcyclists and cyclists.

Passengers can claim regardless of whether the driver of the vehicle they were in was responsible for the accident. They don’t just have to be passengers in a car either – they can be passengers in buses, taxis or other forms of public transport. As well as claiming if they are injured in a bus or taxi collision, they can also claim if they fall on a bus due to erratic driving, or if they fall because the driver pulls away whilst you’re getting on or off of a bus. Drivers have a duty of care to drive safely and responsibly.

Cyclists can claim if they have been injured as a result of a collision with a motor vehicle, have been involved in a hit and run accident, or have had an accident because of badly maintained roads. The number of cycle accidents claims has risen in recent years as the number of people taking up cycling has increased.

Despite high profile campaigns centred on the phrase “Think Bike”, the number of accidents involving motorcycles has increased, with around 1 in 5 road accidents in the UK involving motorcycles. This is because drivers often fail to see motorcyclists while overtaking or at road junctions, and high speeds can often be involved with motorcycle accidents.

How much money can you expect to receive?

Every road traffic claim is unique and therefore it is impossible to say exactly how much money you can expect to receive in terms of compensation. Minor injuries can be less than £1,000, but severe injuries can be in excess of £200,000.

Whiplash is one of the most common injuries from a road traffic accident, and you can generally expect to receive between £800 and £5,000 if you have suffered from this. If you have received an airbag injury, compensation tends to start at around £2,500.

What about “Hit and Run” or uninsured drivers?

Although all drivers are required by law to have motor insurance, there are of course those who break the law and will be driving uninsured. There are also motorists who will flee the scene of an accident rather than stay around and exchange details. For this reason, all UK motor insurance companies are required to pay into the Motor Insurer’s Bureau (MIB) fund each year to cover the cost of road accidents caused by uninsured or untraceable drivers. In these scenarios, compensation is paid by the MIB.


If you have been injured in a road traffic accident, you may be entitled to compensation. Cooks Solicitors will make sure that you get the right amount for your road traffic accident, and will start working on your claim as soon as you instruct us. We won’t advise you to accept a poor offer and if the claim takes time to get the right amount of compensation we will wait. If court proceedings are necessary we will take them. Please call our experienced personal injury solicitors on 033 33 582 582 to discuss your case and to see if we can help you.