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What to do when you have a car accident

A woman looks concerned as she feels a large paint scratch on the side of her vehicle

No one wants to be involved in a car accident, but it's not a perfect world full of perfect drivers. That's why it's best to be prepared in case you run into a minor prang, or are involved in something more serious. 

As the old saying goes, 'hope for the best, prepare for the worst.' 

This guide covers:

  • What to do after not-at-fault accidents 
  • What to do after at-fault accidents
  • 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. 

What to do when you have a minor car accident and it's not your fault

A woman inspects damage to car, after minor collision.

If you're in a car accident that was not your fault, like being rear-ended at a red light, your car insurance might call this a 'no-fault' accident.  

Being involved in any kind of traffic collision is stressful and traumatising, especially if you don't see it coming. 

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

Step 1: Keep calm and check if everyone is ok

Starting off simply, it's important to keep calm and try not to panic.

Take a moment to have a deep breath and collect your calm, before switching off the ignition to reduce the risk of any other accidents occurring.

At this point, you'll also want to put your hazards on to warn other drivers that traffic has stopped. 

Next, check to see if your passengers (if you have any) are ok. After you confirm everything is alright with your passengers, check on all people and cars involved in the accident.

Step 2: Exchange details with those involved

Once you've kept your cool and checked on everyone involved in the accident, you'll want to exchange information with the other driver(s) involved.

Try to gather as much info from the driver at-fault as you can, including:

  • Name
  • Phone number 
  • Car registration details 
  • Insurance provider 
  • Insurance number 
  • Drivers licence number. 

Step 3: Don’t admit fault

It's important that you don't assume fault for the car accident, regardless of if you're certain it wasn't your fault, or not. This goes for apologising, too. 

It sounds harsh, but any admission of fault here could be used against you to deny a car insurance claim. 

Step 4: Get extra evidence (photos & witness accounts)

If there were eye-witnesses to the car accident, be sure to get their contact information and a testimony if possible.

It's also a very good idea to take photographic evidence, as it can help 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 car accident 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 provider at the earliest opportunity if you 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 on-hand in your glove compartment.

What to do when you have a minor car accident and you are at fault

A split-second decision on the road can lead to an accident. As disconcerting as it can be to be responsible for a car accident, staying calm and cooperating is key to resolving the situation. 

Step 1: Keep calm and check if everyone is ok

First, despite what your brain might be telling you, stay calm. If it's a minor collision, everything will likely be fine. Take a deep breath and check on your passengers. 

Turn off the ignition and put your hazards on.

You'll also need to check on the other drivers and/or pedestrians involved in the accident to make sure everyone is ok.

Step 2: Note the time and date

When something like this happens, it's hard to remember the details. You might find it all blurs into one. 

Note down the time and date of the car accident, as well as any other important details that might help your insurance provider help you at claim time. 

Step 3: Exchange details with those involved 

Next, exchange details with the other driver(s) involved.

Try to get as much information as possible, including:

  • Name
  • Phone number 
  • Car registration details 
  • Insurance provider 
  • Insurance number 
  • Driver's licence number. 

This will help later, when you contact your insurance company.

Step 4: Contact the police on 131 444

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:

  • Name
  • Address
  • Driver's licence 
  • Details of the incident.

They may also collect information from witnesses and the other driver(s) involved. 

Depending on how minor the car accident is, you might not need to contact the police at all. However, if someone is injured, you'll definitely need to contact the police.

Step 5: Contact your insurance company

Finally, once you have all the necessary information, contact your car insurance provider and get your claim started. 

There's a chance the insurance provider will need more information, so the sooner you get your claim started, the sooner it can be resolved.

What to do after a serious car accident

Man talks on phone after serious car crash.

If you're in a serious car accident, it's really important to both prioritise your safety and the safety of others, and contact the emergency services by calling 000.

Step 1: Ignition off, hazard lights on

First, switch your vehicle ignition off. This is important to reduce the risk of fire breaking out. 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

It's important to note that removing debris from the road should only be done when it is absolutely safe to do so. 

Debris could include car bumpers, broken glass, or other bits and pieces that might present a hazard to other motorists. 

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, you can call the police assistance line on 131 444.

Once the police show up, you should be prepared to provide them with information including:

  • Name
  • Address
  • Driver's licence 
  • Details of the incident.

The police will almost certainly also collect information from witnesses and the other driver(s) involved in the car accident, especially if it's serious. 

What to do if you hit an animal while driving

Kangaroo road sign.

Hitting an animal while driving can be a heartbreaking experience. It can also be very dangerous for those inside the vehicle. 

Animal rescue organisation, WIRES, recommends staying vigilant, especially on regional roads, at night, or in bad weather.

Here's what you can do if you hit an animal with your car while driving:

Step 1: Securing your safety

Before you do anything else, make sure everyone in your vehicle is safe. Ark Animal Hospital in Darwin recommends only pulling over if it is safe to do so.

So, if you've hit an animal on a busy highway, for instance, it might not be the best idea to pull over to check on it.

Step 2: Calling for help

If it is safe to pull over, the next step is to check on the animal and contact a rescue organisation. 

If it is not safe to pull over, then it might be better to keep driving to the nearest rest area or town to call an animal rescue organisation.

Organisations you can call if you hit an animal while driving include:

  • 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
  • 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.

It's also important to think about whether your comprehensive car insurance policy covers towing costs. 

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, or read through your Product Disclosure Statement (PDS), 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's illegal to drive in Australia without the minimum compulsory third-party insurance (CTP)

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 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 and you get into a car accident, you might be left with a hefty mechanics bill and towing costs.

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.

So, it can really help financially to have a comprehensive car insurance policy on your side.

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      Jack Dona
      Jack Dona
      RG146
      Money writer

      Jack is RG146 Generic Knowledge certified, with a Bachelor of Communications in Creative Writing from UTS, and uses his creative flair to cut through the financial jargon and make home loans, insurance and banking interesting. His reader-first approach to creating content and his passion for financial literacy means he always looks for innovative ways to explain personal finance. Jack's research and explanations have been featured in government publications, and his work is regularly featured alongside major publications in Google's Top Stories for Insurance.

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