What to do if you are involved in a car accident: A guide

A woman talks on mobile phone, while comforting child after a car accident.

As the old saying goes, ‘hope for the best, prepare for the worst.’ The last thing anyone wants is to be involved in a car accident, but if you are - it’s best to be prepared. For that very reason we’ve put together a comprehensive guide on what to do after a collision on the road. 

In this guide we cover what to do immediately after a crash, including exchanging details with other drivers, calling emergency services and arranging a tow. Scenarios covered include:

  • What to do after a minor collision that wasn’t your fault
  • What to do after a minor collision that was your fault
  • What to do after a serious car accident
  • What to do if you hit a wild animal
  • How to call for a tow truck
  • What happens if you don’t have CTP cover
  • What happens if you don’t have comprehensive car insurance

Let’s dive in.

What to do after a minor collision that wasn’t your fault

A woman inspects damage to car, after minor collision.

In insurance terms this type of car accident is called a ‘no fault’ accident. That means that you did not cause the accident. Being involved in any kind of traffic collision is stressful and traumatising, even more so if the accident was not your fault. 

Here are a number of steps to take, should this happen to you.

Step 1: Keep calm

Stop everything immediately after a car crash and try not to panic. Take a deep breath, turn your ignition off to reduce fire risk and turn your hazard lights on. If you have passengers check to see if they are alright. Then check on all cars and people involved in the incident.

Step 2: Exchange details 

Next, exchange information with the other driver(s) involved. Try to gather as much information from the driver at-fault as possible. This includes: name, phone number, car registration details, insurance provider, insurance number and policy details as well as their drivers licence number.

Step 3: Don’t admit fault

If you are certain that you were not at fault for the accident, do not admit fault to the other driver(s). Even though it may be the first word that comes to mind, try not to say ‘sorry’ - it could be used against you as an admittance of fault in an insurance claim.

Step 4: Get extra evidence

If there were any witnesses to the accident, be sure to try and get their testimonies and contact information. It might also be a good idea to take pictures, to back up any statement you have to give. Gathering extra information will help to prove that the accident was not your fault.

Step 5: Report the incident to the police

In most cases you will need to report a traffic collision to the police. According to the NSW government website, the only instances in which you might not need to is if there are no injuries and no vehicles require towing.

Otherwise, if a person or animal is hurt, property is damaged, or a vehicle is towed, the police will have to be called. If police do not attend the scene of the crash, they will have to be called within 24 hours of the incident. To report minor collisions, call the police assistance line on 131 444.

Step 6: Contact your insurance company

Lastly, contact your insurance company at the earliest opportunity - if you do need to make a claim. The sooner you are able to contact them, the sooner the claim can be processed. To make things easier, make sure you know ahead of time the best way to get in contact with them. Keep the insurance provider’s contact information to-hand in your glove compartment.

What to do after a minor collision that was your fault

The wrong decision on the road could lead to a collision. As upsetting as it is to be responsible for causing a car accident, staying calm and cooperating at the scene is important. If you have caused an accident, you will need to make sure everyone else is okay, before exchanging information.

Step 1: Keep calm

Stop everything and try to stay calm. It’s not a great situation to be in, but the first thing to do is take a deep breath and check all other parties involved. That means making sure any passengers are okay and then checking on other drivers and potential pedestrians involved.

Step 2: Note the time and date

When something traumatic happens, it can be hard to remember specific details. For this reason, it is a good idea to make a note of the time and date when the incident occurred. Knowing the exact details of the incident will help your insurance company come claim time.

Step 3: Exchange details

Next, exchange details with other driver(s) involved. Try to get as much information as possible, including name, phone number, licence number, registration details and insurance information. This will help later, when you contact your insurance company.

Step 4: Contact the police

After exchanging details and if necessary contact the police on the police assistance line: 131 444. In cases where the police do attend the scene, you will have to provide officers with your: driver’s licence, details of the incident, your name and address, as well as information about witnesses and other drivers involved.

As mentioned earlier on, you may not need to call the police if no one is injured and no vehicles need to be towed. Although if someone is later treated for injuries, the police will have to be called.

Step 5: Contact your insurance company

Lastly, once you have all the necessary information, you may want to contact your insurance provider. Remember there’s a chance the insurance company will ask for more information about the incident. So the sooner you lodge the claim, the sooner it can be resolved.

What to do after a serious car accident

Man talks on phone after serious car crash.

Being involved in any kind of traffic accident is traumatising, but especially one where your car or the car you are in is left in a dangerous position. To minimise danger to yourself and others, it’s important to know what to do in the immediate aftermath. These steps could also be followed if you are a witness to a serious car accident.

Step 1: Ignition off, hazard lights on

First off, switch your vehicle ignition off. This is important to reduce fire risk, especially if your car is sitting in a dangerous position. Then turn your hazard lights on to make it easier for other passing vehicles to see you.

Step 2: Check on everyone

Next, check on your passengers, other drivers and pedestrians. If anyone is trapped or badly injured, call emergency services on 000 straightaway. 

Step 3: Remove debris from road

Only if it is safe to do so, remove crash debris from the road. This could include broken glass and other debris that could cause another accident. Again only do this if it is safe to do so.

Step 4: Call the police

If emergency services have not already been contacted, call 000 to report the incident. Alternatively, if no one is injured call the police assistance line: 131 444. Once the police show up, you should be prepared to provide them with information including: details of what happened, your driver’s licence, your name and address and information about witnesses and other drivers. 

What to do if you hit a wild animal

Kangaroo road sign.

Avoiding hitting a wild animal on the road is the most ideal situation. To do this, animal rescue organisation WIRES recommends staying vigilant on regional roads. This is especially important at dusk or when driving in bad weather. It might even be a good idea to avoid driving altogether when visibility is low. 

Of course avoidance isn’t always possible and accidents do happen. Here are a few steps to take, should you be unfortunate enough to hit an animal:

Step 1: Securing your safety

Before anything else, secure your own safety and the safety of any other drivers. Ark Animal Hospital in Darwin recommends only pulling over if it is safe to do so. If you have hit a wild animal on a busy highway, it may not be safe for you or other drivers to pull over and check on the animal. 

Step 2: Calling for help

Once you have determined whether or not it is safe to pull over, the next step is to check on the animal. If it is not safe to pull over there and then, you may want to drive to the next town or rest stop and call a rescue organisation. Here are some numbers to call depending on where you are:

  • ACT: RSPCA Wildlife 02 6287 8100
  • NSW: WIRES 1300 094 737
  • NT: Wildcare NT Darwin (0408 885 341), Alice Springs (0419 221 128), Katherine (0412 955 336)
  • QLD: RSPCA QLD 1300 264 625
  • SA: Fauna Rescue 08 8289 0896
  • VIC: Wildlife Victoria 1300 094 535

Remember to take a mental note of where the incident took place. This will help a volunteer locate the injured animal.

Step 3: Checking on the animal

Alternatively, if it is safe to stop, pull over. WIRES advises not stopping at a corner and putting your hazard lights on, if you do stop at the side of the road. In this situation, ideally you would want to have a high-vis vest or brightly coloured clothing. That way you will be more visible to other drivers. 

In terms of actually approaching the animal, rescue organisations do not advise approaching snakes, goannas, bats, large kangaroos, wallabies or raptors. In a situation where you are able to stop, you may be able to follow instructions from a rescue volunteer over the phone.

Finally, to be prepared for this sort of situation at all times, organisations recommend keeping a number of items in your car boot. These include: a basket or cardboard box, a torch, a high-vis vest or jacket, towels, hand sanitiser and gloves. 

How to call for a tow truck

Woman calls tow truck after car accident.

Calling for a tow truck can be very daunting. The one thing not to do, is allow your car to be towed by a tow truck that you didn’t request!

You have the right to decide a) who tows your vehicle and b) where it is towed to. Another thing to note is that to be covered for towing after an accident, you will usually have to have comprehensive car insurance. Third party fire and theft car insurance will generally only provide towing cover if your vehicle has been damaged in a fire or after a theft.

A few basic steps to follow to call for a tow truck are:

Step 1: Call your insurance provider

First thing’s first: in the moment you may not be sure what kind of cover you have for towing. So give your insurance provider a ring to find out. They may even be able to arrange a tow on your behalf.

Step 2: Check the tow truck is above board

When a tow truck does show up, make sure it’s all above board. When handing over your vehicle to be towed, you will be asked to sign a towing authorisation form. Do not sign an incomplete form that does not specify the address where the vehicle is being taken and the towing fee.

Step 3: Double check everything

Lastly, take your time! Remember it is your choice where your car is towed to. Make sure you read all the terms and conditions on the towing authorisation form, before signing. If there is anything you aren’t happy about, ask for clarification.

Make sure you are aware of the regulations around towing in your area. Rules can vary between city and regional areas and different states and territories. So make sure you are aware ahead of time, how things work where you live.

What happens if you don’t have CTP cover?

It is illegal to drive in Australia without at least CTP cover. That is compulsory third party insurance. This type of insurance provides cover for injuries caused to people. It does not cover any damage done to your actual car. 

Not having CTP insurance could lead to financial liability, a hefty fine and even in some cases a criminal record and jail time.

What happens if you don’t have comprehensive car insurance

If you don’t have comprehensive car insurance, there is a chance you could be left with a big mechanic’s bill after a traffic accident. This could include costs to tow the vehicle to a garage, as well as any repairs needed.

If you have third party car insurance and another driver’s car is damaged, your insurance may cover damage done to the other party’s vehicle. If you have the bare minimum, that is compulsory third party insurance, you will most likely not be able to claim for damage to your vehicle or the other driver’s.

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