Four mistakes to avoid when you’re in a car accident

By Sumarie Greybe, co-founder at short-term insurer Naked

Four mistakes to avoid when you’re in a car accident It’s the time of year for festive-season parties and holiday travel and, along with them, headlines and awareness campaigns about carnage on South Africa’s roads.

The average driver in South Africa has a 15% to 20% chance of being involved in a car accident each year. At this time of the year, many people take long trips, which increases the probability that they’ll be involved in an incident on the roads.

What’s more, the risk of an accident or damage as a result of weather conditions like hail and thunderstorms rises in some parts of the country.

Here are four things you should not do if you are involved in a car accident during the December and January holidays. These errors may give an insurer grounds to reject a claim or impose extra costs on the policyholder.

1. Admitting guilt

It’s natural to want to apologise if you bump into another car because you took your eyes off the road for a second, especially if the other driver is angry or you feel bad about dampening their festive spirit. But under the terms of your insurance contract, you will have agreed to not admit guilt when you’re involved in a car accident.

Your insurance provider takes legal responsibility should other people involved in the incident or their insurance providers wish to sue for the damage you have caused. Your insurance provider will look at the facts and decide whether to defend the case and seek reparations from other parties, or whether to pay up.

If you admit that you were at fault, you put your insurance provider at a legal disadvantage and hamper its ability to fight the case. Your duty is to place the facts on the record in your statement to the police and in your claim. Leave the rest in the hands of the insurance firm’s legal team.

If you admit guilt, your insurance provider could argue that you have broken your legal agreement with it. In a worst-case scenario, that could leave you legally liable for the cost of repairs to your own car and to claims from other people involved in the car accident.

2. Allowing an unauthorised provider to tow your car

You should not allow the first tow truck driver on the scene to take your vehicle away. Instead, you should contact your car insurance provider’s emergency number and ask it which provider you should use. The reason for this is that your insurer has preferential agreements with certain tow truck providers.

Many of the rogue tow trucks who are so quick to arrive after a collision will charge higher towing rates and take your vehicle to a scrapyard that charges exorbitant daily storage fees compared to the assessment centre your insurance provider uses. If you allow an unauthorised operator to take your car, you might be liable for the extra towing and storage costs.

3. Driving away without getting contact details

You should not leave the scene of an accident without getting contact details from other parties involved in the accident and from potential eye witnesses. This forms part of your responsibility to enable your insurance provider to defend your case and recover costs from parties at fault in the incident.

Feel free to take some photos of the scene to substantiate your statement to the police. Some insurance providers, like Naked, enable you to file your claim and accident report on the spot, along with your photos. Dashcam footage can also help to clarify who was at fault in the accident.

If you are in a dangerous situation, head for the nearest police station to report the accident and ask others involved in the incident to meet you there to swap contact details. Put your safety first if the other driver is being abusive and threatening, or if the accident occurred in a road with lots of fast-moving traffic or a reputation for violent crime.

4. Failing to report the car accident to the police

Under South African law, you should report an accident to the nearest police station within 24 hours following an accident on a public road. If you consumed alcohol on the day preceding the accident, it is wise to present yourself to a medical facility for an immediate blood alcohol test.

The insurance provider will reject your claim if it has proof that you were over the limit at the time of the incident. The process it will follow to get this proof might be unpleasant, inconvenient and time-consuming for you. Taking a blood test is the best and quickest way to prove that you were not above the legal limit at the time of the accident. It goes without saying that you should not have a drink to steady your nerves until you’ve had such a blood test!

This article first appeared in City Press.

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