The law requires that certain procedures be followed after a driver has been involved in a road accident. Therefore, it is a good idea to be aware of these requirements, just in case you’re ever involved in a collision says lawyer.
This is according to Kirstie Haslam, partner at DSC Attorneys, a firm that specialises in road accident claims.
She says that In South Africa, a driver involved in a road accident that seriously injures or kills anyone is required by law to: stop their vehicle, remain at the scene, assist the injured, (if relevant) and report the accident to the police.
A driver who fails to stop their vehicle after a serious accident may be subject to a fine of up to R180 000, a prison sentence of up to nine years, or both says Haslam.
What should I do immediately after a road accident?
If anyone had been injured, immediately call for an ambulance on 10177 and the police on 10111, she advises.
Unless you’ve been injured and need to be taken to a hospital, Haslam says you must stay at the scene and help those who have been injured.
If you are able, write down details of the accident while you’re still at the scene. Haslam says to aim to take note of the following:
- full names, phone numbers, addresses and ID numbers of the drivers
- company details for any company vehicle involved
- names and contact details for any witnesses
- where and when the accident took place
- the weather conditions
- vehicle descriptions and registration numbers
- details of police and traffic officers and ambulance personnel on the scene
- details of tow truck personnel.
She says that you might need this information later if you need to make a claim against your insurance or the Road Accident Fund (RAF), or to claim the cost of repairs from other parties.
“If possible, takes photos – and even video footage – of the scene of the accident, from multiple angles and get photos of the damage to vehicles, the surrounding area and any injuries,” she adds.
“Also draw a sketch of the layout of the accident scene, with notes about orientation and the directions that vehicles and any pedestrians were heading.”
What should I NOT do after an accident?
Haslam points out that it is important to avoid certain common mistakes, to protect yourself legally including:
- Don’t move your vehicle unless it is endangering others or you’ve been told to do so by a law enforcement officer.
- Don’t leave the scene of an accident until the police say that you may.
- Don’t discuss whose fault the accident was with anyone.
- Don’t admit liability, even inadvertently. For example, don’t say “I’m sorry”.
- Don’t agree to any settlement terms without first consulting an attorney.
She continues: “The police may ask you to submit to a medical examination. Don’t drink any alcohol or take any drugs that have a narcotic effect, before the examination or before reporting the accident to the police, unless instructed to do so by a doctor.”
She also advises not to throw away anything that could be considered evidence, such as documents, torn or stained clothing or defective products.
Reporting a road accident to the police
“Under the National Road Traffic Act, a driver involved in a road accident that seriously injures or kills anyone must report the accident to the police within 24 hours or, if unable to do this due to injuries, as soon as is reasonably possible,” she explains.
“You can make a report at the accident scene or, in person, to any police or traffic department. You’ll need to present your driver’s license when doing this.”
She adds that for legal purposes, note the name of the officer taking the report and the accident report reference number.
What is involved in filing an accident report?
Haslam explains that:
Each driver and pedestrian who reports a road accident must complete an official Accident Report (AR) form. This is so that each party can give their account of the incident.
A traffic or police offer must be prepared to assist you in completing the form. Make sure all the information you include in the form is accurate.
Once the form is completed, an entry is made in the official Accident Register (SAPS 176). The driver or pedestrian filing the report is then given an official reference number. This is proof that the accident has been properly reported.
The person filing the report or another involved party can request a copy of the form but an uninvolved party will need written permission from the involved party.
She also notes that The Road Accident Fund (RAF) and Road Traffic Management Corporation (RTMC), or an agent acting on their behalf and with the necessary proof from the RAF or RTMC, can acquire a certified photocopy of this form without the permission of an involved party.
When do the police investigate a road accident?
Haslam says that the police will launch an investigation into a road accident if:
- someone has been killed or seriously injured
- a police vehicle was involved in or contributed to the accident
- it appears that a serious offence has been committed or a written complaint alleges this.
- If a road accident is not reported or a driver’s license is not presented when the report is filed, criminal prosecution could follow.
What are the potential legal consequences of a road accident?
“A road accident may lead to criminal charges against a driver for driving recklessly, driving negligently or, if someone is killed, culpable homicide,” she says. “Road accidents may also lead to civil claims for damage to property or for personal injury.”
Can I claim from the Road Accident Fund?
The purpose of the Road Accident Fund (RAF) is to compensate victims of road accidents, including drivers, passengers, pedestrians and their dependants explains Haslam.
- you were seriously injured in an accident you weren’t solely responsible for causing; this applies for drivers, passengers and pedestrians
- you’re the driver responsible for the accident but not the owner of the vehicle, and the accident was a result of the owner’s negligence (for example, if the owner was warned to replace worn brake pads but failed to do so)
- you’re a child, spouse or other person who was dependent on the income of a person killed in an accident; for more information, see our article on claiming for someone deceased
- you’re a close relative of the deceased and paid for this person’s funeral.
“You cannot claim from the RAF if you were the driver and owner of the vehicle solely responsible for the accident,” she says. “You also can’t claim if you were the only person involved in the accident – for example, if you were injured because you crashed your vehicle into an obstacle and nothing else, such as badly maintained roads, contributed to the accident.”
However, she says that it is worthwhile to note that if badly maintained roads caused an accident, it’s possible you may have a common law claim against the authority responsible for maintaining those roads. This applies if the authority wrongfully failed in its legal duty to provide safe roads for road users.
She says that it is worthwhile contacting an attorney that specialises in road accident claims should you want to claim. “Their personal injury attorneys and medico-legal team will be able to assess your claim, help prepare supporting evidence and represent you in legal proceedings, giving you the best chance of receiving the compensation you deserve,” she adds.