What to do after a car accident

Here’s what to do if you have an accident on the road.

Kim Jones
Kim Jones
Updated 16 June 2023  | 5 min read
Reviewed by Jasmine Hembury

Information on this page was reviewed by our fact-checkers before it was published. Learn more about our fact checking process and our editorial guidelines.

1. Be prepared

Car collisions and accidents can be traumatic. If you’re unlucky enough to be involved in one, it can help ease a high-stress situation if you know exactly what steps to take immediately after the event.

Being confident that your car insurance provides you with a comprehensive level of cover can keep worries to a minimum, too.

You may also want to consider adding extras like breakdown cover and legal expenses cover to your policy.

Almost 88%[1] of comprehensive car insurance policies offer no breakdown cover as standard. It’s an extra that can be useful in the event of an accident as some policies will arrange recovery if your vehicle can’t be driven. Check exactly what’s included before buying though, as some policies will exclude this type of cover.

Legal expenses cover can pay for your legal costs if you’re involved in an accident that wasn’t your fault and you want to make a claim against the other driver. This could be for things like medical expenses caused by the accident or for lost earnings.

2. You must stop

If you have an accident, and there’s damage to a vehicle or property, or a person is injured, you must stop and exchange contact and car insurance details.

Stop somewhere safe, switch off your car engine and turn on your hazard lights.

The police should be informed of incidents where:

  • Someone is injured, or property gets damaged
  • You kill or injure certain animals including farm animals and dogs
  • Damage is caused to a vehicle, other than the one that caused the incident
  • You cause damage to street signs or bollards

In emergencies, you must report the incident to the police immediately on 999, but all others should be reported on 101, within 24 hours.

Failing to stop or to report an incident is an offence and can result in a fine, penalty points on your licence and even imprisonment.

You should also call the police if you’re blocking the road.

3. Check for injuries

Once you've stopped, the first thing to do is check whether you or anyone else is injured and get them the medical attention they need.

Call the police and an ambulance immediately on 999 if anyone is hurt.

4. Don’t admit guilt and do remain calm

Avoid accepting blame for the incident in the immediate aftermath until you’re completely sure of what happened and what caused the accident. Even saying ‘sorry’ could end up leaving you liable. Although it isn’t a legal admission of guilt, it could be used against you if you were to make a claim.

Try to stay calm and don’t allow the other party to put pressure on you to accept the blame, either.

Similarly, don’t point the finger. Even if you know they were in the wrong, stay calm. Engaging in an argument at the side of the road will only make matters worse.

Instead ask if anyone is injured and offer to exchange details. It puts the attention on the other party and focuses conversation on the practicalities, rather than playing the blame game.

Leave it to the police and the insurance companies to go through the evidence to determine who is liable.

5. Exchange details

Share details with the other driver, including:

  • Name, address and contact details
  • Insurance details
  • Registration details
  • Vehicle owner’s/registered keeper’s name

If you hit a stationary unattended vehicle, you should leave your details on their windscreen.

6. Record details of the accident

Gather as much information as you can.

It'll make it easier to provide evidence to your insurer if you need to make a claim.

Make sure you note down:

  • The time and date of the accident
  • Details of the vehicles involved, including the make, model, colour and number plates
  • The driving conditions, including the weather, lighting and road quality
  • How much damage was done to the vehicles and which parts of the vehicles are affected
  • Contact details from any witnesses
  • A description of what happened - take plenty of photos and videos to back this up

7. Report the accident to your insurance company

You need to let your insurer know about an accident, usually within 24 hours, regardless of who was to blame and even if you don’t want to make a claim.

The other driver could make a claim against you so it’s best to let your insurer know your side of the story first.

Your insurer should now handle the claim for you. If you’re contacted directly by anyone else involved in the accident or by their insurer, you must ask them to speak to your insurer instead.

Do you have to report a minor car accident to police forces?

If the collision was minor, caused only minimal damage to the vehicles and nobody was injured, and as long as you’ve exchanged information details with the other driver, you don’t need to report it to the police. It’s a matter for the insurance companies to sort out.

If the other car failed to stop, you were unable to exchange details or someone was injured, you should always report the incident to the police within 24 hours.

Similarly, if you suspect the other motorist committed a driving offence, is drunk or under the influence of drugs or deliberately caused the collision (crash for cash scam, for example) then you should report the incident to the police immediately.

What happens if the accident wasn’t my fault?

A claim you make when an accident isn’t your fault is known as a non-fault claim. With a non-fault claim, your insurance provider goes to the at-fault driver’s insurer to reclaim costs for any repairs to your vehicle, or injury to you.

When an at-fault party can’t be identified and there’s no one to make the claim against, your insurance company will consider you liable. This could be the case if the at-fault driver drives off after the accident has happened, or if an animal jumps in front of your car causing the accident.

Will a non-fault accident affect my car insurance?

A non-fault accident will affect your insurance. Even if the accident wasn’t your fault, it’ll be recorded on your claims history and your insurer will consider you to be a higher risk to insure moving forward. This means it’s likely that your insurance costs will increase after the non-fault claim has been declared.

Do I need to declare a non-fault car accident?

Yes. You must declare all car accidents that you’re involved in to your insurer. That includes non-fault accidents, even if you aren’t going to claim. Most insurers ask you to declare any accidents you’ve been involved in during the past five years. Failing to report an accident to your insurer can mean your policy is voided in the future.

How do I know who is at fault for a car accident?

Your insurer will decide who’s responsible for the accident during the claims process. The outcome of this will determine who pays for the repairs and any compensation for injuries sustained in the accident.

They will look at the evidence available from the time of the incident, including video footage from dashcams, speed cameras and nearby CCTV, photos you have taken using your smartphone, police reports and any statements made by eyewitnesses.

Can I appeal my car insurance decision?

If you feel that the outcome of their decision was unfair or incorrect, you can contest it by making a formal complaint to your insurer. You should follow their complaints procedure and either write, email or call them to start the process. If you don’t get the outcome you were expecting from the process you can then take your complaint to the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS).

What happens if a car accident was my fault?

If it’s established that the accident was your fault, then your insurance company will pay for the other motorist’s vehicle repairs or replacement. They’ll also have to pay out for any successful compensation claims for injuries by the other driver.

You’ll need to pay the excess on your policy.But if you buy car insurance through us, we’ll refund up to £250 of your excess after your claim’s been settled [2]. Car insurance purchases only - excludes breakdown, windscreen and glass repair or replacement. Full terms and conditions apply.

What if the other driver didn’t stop?

This is usually called a ‘hit and run’ and is a criminal offence.

You should report the incident to the police and your insurer. If you’re able to, make a note of the car’s make, model, colour and registration number.

If the other driver can’t be traced or is uninsured, you might still be able to claim compensation. Check your insurance policy to see whether uninsured driver claims are covered or contact the Motor Insurance Bureau (MIB) - they specialise in helping victims of hit and runs and uninsured drivers.

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

It depends on your particular insurance provider. But most require that an accident is reported to them within 24 hours. Check the terms and conditions carefully to make sure.

What safety items should I have in my car?

Think about keeping the following in your vehicle:

  • Spare warm clothes, like a jumper, gloves, socks and boots, plus handwarmer heat packs
  • A high-vis vest
  • Phone numbers for your breakdown provider and insurer
  • A torch, and a spare set of lightbulbs and tyre pressure gauge
  • Ice-scraper and de-icer
  • Water and long-life wrapped snacks like cereal bars
  • A pen and notepad
  • A basic first aid kit
  • Spare phone charging cable that plugs into the cigarette lighter socket or 12V power point/mobile phone portable power bank
  • UK road atlas
  • Your vehicle user manual, but keep the service booklet at home

What if I’m stranded on a motorway hard shoulder?

Stop as far to the left as possible, leaving enough room for you to exit the vehicle on the left-hand side, away from traffic. Put on your hazard lights.

Try to stop as close as you can to an emergency telephone (they’re located at intervals of one mile apart on motorways and are usually orange, marked with an SOS sticker). Using one will connect you to the police or highway authority and help them locate exactly where you are.

Move yourself and your passengers somewhere safe, well away from the car and other traffic, preferably behind any safety barriers on the verge, taking care on uneven ground.

Wear a hi-vis jacket if you have one and wrap up warm as you may have to wait in the open air for some time.

Don’t stand where your vehicle could be driven into you if another vehicle collides with it. Any animals should be left secured in the car, unless it’s an emergency situation, in which case keep them secured and under control with you on the verge.

Don’t return to your car and never try to make repairs to your car on the hard shoulder.

Frequently asked questions

You’ll still need to follow the steps outlined above. You’ll be committing an offence under Section 170 of the Road Traffic Act if you don’t stop after damaging the car, even if the car is unoccupied.

Likewise, if the owner of the vehicle isn’t around you’ll still need to leave yours or the owner of the car’s name, address and car registration number if possible, then report the incident by calling 101, the police number for non-emergencies. You should do this even if you have managed to leave your details.

Make sure to still also contact your insurance provider, even if you don’t plan to make a claim. Failure to follow these steps may result in you hearing from the police. You can even be prosecuted for failing to stop, failing to report an accident, and careless driving. If found guilty you will receive points on your licence and a fine.

Call your insurance provider as soon as you can, even if you don’t intend to make a claim. Failure to report damage to your car could invalidate your insurance cover.

If you do intend to make a claim, take photos of the damage and try to find any witnesses to the accident who can provide further details. Check around to see if there are any CCTV cameras that might have recorded the incident.

You should also report the incident to the police on 101, the non-emergency police phone number, within 24 hours. You’ll need to give them details such as the time, date and location of the incident, and any other evidence you have managed to gather.

You’re legally required to tell the police if you’ve hit a horse, cattle, donkey, mule, sheep, pig, goat or dog.

If you hit any animal and it's obstructing a road or highway, report it to the police.

If the animal is injured, you could call the RSPCA on 0300 1234 999 for advice on what to do. If the animal is a pet, you could, with caution, check for collar tags with the owner’s details and contact information on them. If you can’t locate the owner, you could take the animal to a vet for treatment and to be scanned for a microchip.

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[1]43 of 352 comprehensive car insurance policies offer breakdown cover (UK) as standard. Checked 20/10/2022

[2]Up to £250 refunded after claim settled. Car insurance purchases only. Excludes breakdown, windscreen and glass repair/replacement. Full T&Cs apply.