What to do after a car accident

Here’s what to do if you have an accident on the road, including exchanging details and reporting the incident to your insurer.

alice morgan
Alice Morgan
Updated 11 November 2021  | 2 min read

Be prepared

Unfortunately, most motorists will have to deal with being in a car accident at some time in their driving career.

It's a high-stress situation, but it'll be easier to navigate if you're calm, prepared and know what do and how to notify your car insurance.

Key points

  • Always stop at the scene of an accident
  • Exchange contact and insurance details with others who were involved
  • Record as many details from the scene as you can - it’ll help with your insurance claim

You must stop

If you have an accident, you must stop to exchange contact and car insurance details.

Unless it’s unsafe to do so, you must stop if:

  • Someone is injured, or property gets damaged
  • You kill or injure certain animals including farm animals and dogs
  • You cause damage to street signs or bollards, even if a vehicle isn’t involved

If you don’t, you’ll be committing a criminal offence.

You must report the incident to the police as soon as you can, but it must be within 24 hours.

If you fail to stop or fail to report an incident, you could be fined, given penalty points or a driving ban, or even sentenced to six months in prison.

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

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 an ambulance and police immediately if anyone is hurt.

Don’t admit guilt and remain calm

Don’t apologise when you stop. Saying 'sorry' may seem like a polite gesture, but it could leave you liable for the repairs.

Although saying sorry isn’t a legal admission of guilt, it could be used against you if you were to make a claim. Your policy may also state you can’t admit guilt at the scene of an accident.

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

If you’re worried about sounding rude by not beginning the conversation with “I’m sorry…”, think about what you can do instead to help. For example, ask “Are you injured? Is everyone alright?” and offer to exchange details. It puts the attention on the other party and focuses the conversation on the practicalities, rather than playing the blame game.

Exchange details

Legally, there are certain details you must give at the scene of an accident.

If that’s not possible, give them to the police within 24 hours.

You need to share:

  1. Your name and address with everyone involved

    By law, you must do this if anything’s been damaged or if anyone’s been injured

  2. Your insurance details

    That’s who you’re insured with and your policy number with other drivers

  3. Your certificate of insurance

    If anyone has been injured and someone at the scene has reasonable grounds to see it

  4. Your contact details

    Your home or mobile phone number and/or an email address

  5. Your driving licence number

    You can find this on your driving license or check it online using your National Insurance number

Selling your old car?

Get a free online valuation to see how much it's worth

Sell my car

Record details of the accident

Get as much information together as you can.

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

Make sure you note down:

  • The time and date of the accident
  • The 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 part of the vehicles are affected
  • Contact details from any witnesses
  • A description of what happened - take photos to back this up

Report the accident to your insurance company

Always tell your insurer about an accident straight away, 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 their insurer, just ask them to contact your insurer instead.

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

You must either provide your name, address and vehicle registration number to anyone who might reasonably need them, or report the incident to the police within 24 hours.

What happens if the accident wasn’t my fault?

You still need to exchange details or let the police know. Your insurer will need to be informed too, even if you aren’t planning to make a claim.

If you do want to claim you’ll still usually need to pay an excess, but your insurer might refund it. 

With a car accident that was my fault, what happens?

Even if you know the accident was your fault, don’t say sorry or admit guilt at the scene as your insurer might have a clause about it. 

Exchange details with the other’s involved and get in touch with your insurer to report the incident. You’ll need to pay an excess, but if you buy car insurance through us, we’ll refund up to £250 of your excess after your claim’s been settled.[1]

What if the other driver didn’t stop?

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

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 National Accident Helpline for advice. 

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

You’ll have a set period from when the accident happens to tell your insurer - it could be a few days or a couple of weeks. If you don’t, you could invalidate your cover.

You can find out how long you have in your policy documents.

What safety items should I have in my car?

You could have:

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

What if I hit an animal?

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

If it’s safe to do so, pull over. If you hit any animal and it's obstructing a road or highway, report it to the police.

Think the animal could be someone's pet? If you can, take it to a vet so it can be scanned for a microchip. 

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

Try to stop near an emergency telephone (they’re about one mile apart and they’re usually orange). Using it will help the police or highway authority find where you are.

Put your hazard lights on, and get out on the left side (even though it’s a bit awkward for the driver). Move somewhere safe away from the hard shoulder. Any animals should be left secured in the car, unless it’s an emergency situation. 

Compare and save on your car insurance

Start a quote

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