Why is this important? The information we provide differs between countries. To get information for your country, please select from the dropdown.

Traffic accidents

Traffic accidents

An accident is defined as a traffic accident if it occurs on a road or in a place to which the public have access. This can include footpaths and bridleways. In Scotland, a public road is one that a local authority has a duty to maintain.

Back to contents

Who is responsible for a traffic accident

It may be obvious that someone caused the accident and there will be no dispute about liability. However, there will be cases where it is not obvious, or where the extent of liability is difficult to work out. For example, as a general rule, the driver of a vehicle which runs into the back of another vehicle will be held liable for the accident. This is the case even if the car in front has braked sharply or unexpectedly, because drivers are required to drive a safe distance behind other vehicles. However, there may be circumstances when this does not apply, and if liability is disputed, legal advice will be necessary unless the insurance company is dealing with it.

Back to contents

What must a driver involved in a traffic accident do

A driver involved in a traffic accident should stop whether or not the accident was their fault if:-

  • anyone, other than themselves, is injured; or
  • another vehicle, or someone else’s property, is damaged; or
  • an animal in another vehicle or running across the road is injured; or
  • a bollard, street lamp or other item of street furniture is damaged.

If you have to stop, you must remain near the vehicle long enough for anyone who is involved directly or indirectly in the accident to ask for details. This could be, for example, the owner of an injured animal, a relative of someone who is injured, or the police. The driver must then give their name and address, the name and address of the owner of the vehicle (if the driver is not the owner), and the registration number of the vehicle.

The driver may also have to report the accident to a police officer or at a police station, in person, as soon as practicable and in any case within 24 hours. This duty arises whenever the driver has not given their name and address at the scene of the accident, whether or not they were asked to do so.

If any personal injury is caused to another person, the driver must also produce a valid insurance certificate if asked to do so by a police officer, injured person, or anyone else directly or indirectly involved in the accident. If the insurance certificate is asked for, but not produced at the time, the accident must be reported to a police station as soon as practicable, or in any case within 24 hours, and the insurance certificate must be taken to a police station within seven days of the accident. However if the driver is asked at the time of the accident to produce insurance details and does so, there is no further obligation to report the accident to the police, as long as they have complied with the duties described above.

For more information about personal injuries, in England and Wales see Personal injuries, and in Scotland see Personal injuries.

In the case of a damage-only accident, the driver must give insurance details to anyone who may wish to make a claim against them.

In all accidents, drivers should inform their own insurance company.

For more information in England and Wales about making a claim to your insurance company, see Motor insurance in Consumer fact sheets.

Back to contents

Police checks for insurance

The police can, when they suspect a crime is being committed, access a computerised database to check whether a vehicle and/or its driver has insurance cover.

The police can seize a vehicle if it is driven while uninsured. If the owner doesn't produce a valid insurance certificate within seven working days, the police can sell the vehicle. However, the owner can claim back the proceeds of the sale.

Back to contents

Tracing the owner of a vehicle when the driver refuses to give information

A driver involved in an accident is required to give information - see under heading What must a driver involved in a traffic accident do. If someone other than the owner of the vehicle was driving it at the time of the accident, the owner can also be required to give the police information about the person who was driving. It is an offence not to provide the police with this information unless the owner can show they did not know and it was not reasonable for them to find out.

If a driver involved in a traffic accident refuses to give details, such as name and address, at the scene of the accident, this information can be obtained in other ways. If the registration number of the vehicle has been noted and the accident has been reported, the police can trace the owner (not necessarily the driver) of the vehicle and their insurance company. However, the police can refuse to pass on this information.

In England, Wales and Scotland, the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) can give the name and address of the person registered as the keeper of the vehicle to anyone who has a good reason for needing it, provided that the circumstances relate to a vehicle or its use on the road. If you want this information, you should use form V888 available at www.gov.uk. A fee of £2.50 is payable. You must give the registration number, make and model of the car and the date of the accident. You can also get the form from the DVLA:

DVLA
Drivers' Customer Services
Swansea
SA6 7JL

Tel: 0300 790 6801
Textphone: 0300 123 1278
Fax: 0300 123 0784
Website: www.gov.uk

In Northern Ireland, the Driver and Vehicle Agency (DVA) can give the name and address of the person registered needing it, provided that the circumstances relate to a vehicle or its use on the road.

If you need this information, you should use form V888 (NI) available at www.nidirect.gov.uk.

You can also get the form from the DVA:

Driver and Vehicle Agency (DVA) (Northern Ireland)
Vehicle Enquiries Section
Castlerock Road
Coleraine
Co. Londonderry
BT51 3TA

Tel: 0845 402 4000
Minicom - Vehicles: 028 7034 1351
Minicom - Drivers: 028 7034 1380
Fax: 028 7034 1422
Email: dvlni@doeni.gov.uk
Website: www.dvani.gov.uk

Back to contents

Was a driver driving illegally

Examples of driving illegally include driving:-

  • alone on a provisional licence
  • without a driving licence, tax or insurance
  • while disqualified from driving
  • a stolen vehicle
  • an unsafe vehicle
  • without an MOT certificate
  • while drunk or under the influence of drugs.

A driver who is driving illegally is not in a strong position to take legal action against anyone else, even if another other person caused the accident.

If you are involved in a traffic accident where a driver was driving illegally you should consult an experienced adviser, for example, a Citizens Advice Bureau. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by email, click on the nearest CAB.

Back to contents

Accidents caused by sudden illness

If an accident occurs because a driver has become ill, for example, through a stroke or heart attack, they will not be prosecuted for the way they were driving. However, in some circumstances they could be liable to pay compensation. This may be covered by their insurance.

If you are involved in an accident caused by the illness of the driver, you should consult an experienced adviser, for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by e-mail, click on nearest CAB.

Back to contents

Payment for hospital treatment

The Injury Costs Recovery Scheme allows the NHS to recover the cost of treating an injured patient in cases where personal injury compensation is paid to that person. Under the scheme, the person paying the compensation must reimburse the NHS for hospital treatment and ambulance services, up to a maximum amount. The scheme applies to everyone paying compensation and not just to insurance companies. The scheme is administered by the Compensation Recovery Unit of the Department for Work and Pensions.

Back to contents

Witnesses

It is important to obtain evidence from independent witnesses about what happened at an accident. If someone who is present at an accident refuses to act as a witness, it is advisable to ask the police if the witness has been called to give a witness statement. If this is not possible, it is very difficult to do anything, unless the name and address of the witness are known. With this information they can be called as a witness in any civil court proceedings that might take place.

Witnesses should write down their evidence and keep their original notes, as it may be some time before any claims are settled or court proceedings are heard. Whatever witnesses may say, the people involved in the accident should make their own written accounts of what happened, including making sketches and taking photographs as soon as possible and keeping their original notes.

Back to contents

Failure to respond to claim letters

If someone does not reply to a claim letter holding them liable for damages following a road accident, you should take one of the following courses of action:-

  • if you have fully comprehensive insurance, let the insurance company pursue the claim. If the insurance company does not manage to recover damages from the other person you may lose your no-claims bonus, unless you can successfully sue the liable person
  • if you have no insurance, or have only third party insurance, you will have to pursue the claim yourself. If the other person does not respond, you may have to take court action (see under heading Taking court action). However, if the other person doesn't respond, it may be hard to prove the case in court unless you have independent witnesses
  • if the police were involved, they can be contacted to ask whether they are following up the accident and whether they have heard from the other person.

If someone fails to respond to claim letters you should consult an experienced adviser for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by e-mail, click on the nearest CAB.

Back to contents

Taking court action

Court action in England and Wales

In England and Wales, if you do not have an insurance company acting for you, you may have to sue the liable person, for example, to recover uninsured losses. Where this is the case, bear the following points in mind:-

  • if the claim is defended and is allocated to the small claims track (that is most claims of £10,000 or less), you will not usually be entitled to claim solicitor’s costs, and will therefore have to deal with the case yourself, or pay for a solicitor.

For more details about small claims, see Small claims.

  • if the claim is defended and allocated to either the fast track or the multi-track, you will be able to make a claim for your legal costs against the other party, although there is no guarantee you will get them all back
  • whether the case is allocated to the small claims track, fast track or multi-track, you may be able to get some help with legal costs.

For more information about help with legal costs, in England and Wales see Help with legal costs, in Scotland see Help with legal costs and in Northern Ireland, see Help with legal costs.

If a claim form has been issued against you, you need to respond quickly, as time limits for entering a defence are quite short. Even if you admit you are liable for some or all of the damages claimed, you may have a good counterclaim to make and this must be done quickly.

Someone involved in civil court proceedings should consult an experienced adviser for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by e-mail, click on the nearest CAB

Court action in Scotland

In Scotland, a person may have civil action raised, or may raise it, under the small claims, summary cause or ordinary cause procedures.

Someone involved in civil court proceedings should consult an experienced adviser for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by e-mail, click on the nearest CAB

Court action in Northern Ireland

In Northern Ireland, the small claims procedure cannot be used in connection with traffic accidents. Legal advice and representation may be needed in either the county court or the High Court.

Back to contents

An employee who has a traffic accident whilst travelling for work (or possibly on the way to work) should bear in mind the following points:-

  • if the vehicle is insured by the employer, the employee will be covered by the employer’s vehicle insurance, whether or not they were responsible for the accident
  • if the employee is an injured pedestrian or cyclist, the employer will normally be liable in the same way as for any industrial injury, unless the employee clearly acted negligently
  • if the employee is a trade union member and is injured they will usually get free legal help from the trade union
  • they may be able to claim benefits under the industrial injuries scheme

For information about claiming benefits, see Benefits for people who are sick or disabled.

Back to contents

Learner drivers

Learner drivers who are driving legally are in exactly the same position as any other driver in relation to a traffic accident. The supervisor of a learner driver must do all that is reasonable to prevent the driver from driving in a way likely to cause danger to others. It is the duty of the driver to report an accident and the liability and responsibility of the supervisor depends on the particular circumstances.

The police have the power to require the supervisor of a learner driver to produce their licence and certificate of insurance.

Back to contents

Bicycles

If someone has been in an accident involving a bicycle, they should be aware that cyclists do not have to be insured for damage to the bicycle, any other vehicle or for personal injury. However, the cyclist may be covered under another insurance policy, for example, their home contents policy. If the accident happened on the way to or from work, or whilst at work, the person who had the accident may be covered by their employer’s insurance or may be able to obtain advice and assistance from a trade union.

If the cyclist has inadequate insurance it will probably be easier to claim on the insurance of the person who had the accident and let the insurance company take action against anyone who is liable.

If none of these is possible, the cyclist could be sued in court for compensation - see under heading Taking court action.

Back to contents

Children

If someone is involved in an accident caused by a child, it can be difficult to prove that the child's behaviour has been negligent. Even if negligence by the child can be proved, it may not be worth pursuing any legal action as the child is unlikely to have any money. However, a judgment can be enforced for six years following the date of the judgment, during which period the child may become able to pay.

If the child was accompanied by a responsible adult at the time of the accident, it may be possible to sue the adult, if it can be shown that the adult acted negligently by failing to supervise the child properly.

Even if the child was not accompanied by an adult, it may be possible to sue an adult for failing to supervise the child adequately at the time of the accident.

Back to contents

Stationary or fixed objects

If someone hits a stationary object, either on the road itself or alongside the road, they should consider the following:-

  • was the object adequately marked or lit to enable the driver to see it clearly and in time to avoid it, for example, an unlit car, skip or roadworks. If not, it will be necessary to find out who was responsible for failing to do so. For example, if the object was a parked car, the responsible person is the owner. If the object was roadworks, then whoever is carrying out the roadworks is responsible, for example, the local authority, a gas, water or electricity company, or contractors doing the work on their behalf
  • had the object been left on the road either unlawfully or in an unsafe way, for example, a car parked on a blind corner. If so, the owner of the object or vehicle may be liable
  • have there been any similar accidents caused by the object. If so, this is evidence that the object had contributed to the accident.

Back to contents

The condition of the road surface

An accident may be caused by the condition of the road surface, for example, by pot holes, ice, mud or leaves. Adequate warning may not have been given of a problem with the road surface, for example:-

  • the local authority (Department of Regional Development, Transport NI in Northern Ireland) may have failed to respond reasonably to a problem with the road surface. If so, they may be liable for any accident caused
  • individuals or firms, for example, farmers or contractors may have left mud or grease on the road surface for an unreasonable period of time without adequate warnings. If so, they may be liable for any accident caused
  • a contractor who has failed to reinstate the road surface properly after carrying out works.

If your car is damaged because of the condition of the road surface you may have a claim for compensation against the local authority responsible for maintaining the road.

However, you will need to show that the road was not properly inspected and repaired. You should contact the local authority as soon as possible with evidence of:

  • the state of the road
  • the damage done to your car
  • the costs of repairing your car.

You can also send a photograph of the road to support your claim. If damage has been caused by a pothole, try to send measurements of the width and depth of the hole.

If the local authority claims they have properly maintained and inspected the road you may still have grounds for a claim if the authority has not followed the national code of practice for highway maintenance. You can find the code at www.ukroadsliaisongroup.org.

The website www.potholes.co.uk contains a list of authorities responsible for maintaining roads and a step-by-step guide of how to report a claim for compensation.

Back to contents

Emergency vehicles

Emergency vehicles have no special exemption from liability for accidents that they are involved in or cause. The same rules apply as with any other accident.

Back to contents

Drivers from abroad

If an accident happens in the UK and the driver is from abroad their obligations are the same as if the driver came from the UK - see under heading What must a driver involved in a traffic accident do.

It may be difficult to get compensation for any damage or injuries. You could try contacting the Motor Insurers Bureau. They can obtain details of the driver and their insurance company if the vehicle’s registration number can be provided and the driver comes from a country participating in the green card scheme. If the driver was not insured, or the insurance company does not have an agent in the United Kingdom, the Motor Insurers Bureau will take up the case. If the insurance company does have an agent in the UK, you will be advised to contact them.  The contact details of the Motor Insurers Bureau are:

The Company Secretary
Motor Insurers Bureau
6-12 Capital Drive
Linford Wood
Milton Keynes
MK14 6XT
Tel: 01908 830001
Fax: 01908 671681
Email: enquiries@mib.org.uk
Website: www.mib.org.uk

Back to contents

Citizens Advice

Rate this page Give feedback