One of the most common causes of accidents, particularly on motorways, is that drivers fall asleep. If you feel tired, you should stop and rest immediately, as it’s almost impossible to drive through it. You’re recommended to take a break, even just to stretch your legs and get some fresh air, at least every two hours. Sleeping at the wheel is such a serious problem that, in future, cars may be fitted with ‘driver fatigue’ alarm. However, motorways are the UK’s safest roads and 75 per cent of all road deaths happen on urban roads, which carry only 40 per cent of all traffic. Motorways carry 15 per cent and account for 6 per cent of road deaths.
If you’re involved in (or cause) a car accident that results in injury to a person or a large animal (dog, horse, cattle, ass, mule, sheep, pig or goat) that isn’t in your vehicle, or cause damage to any vehicle or property (apart from your own), the procedure is as follows:
1. Stop immediately. If possible move your car off the road and keep your passengers and yourself off the road. If you have an accident (or a breakdown) on a motorway, don’t stay in your vehicle whatever the weather (even if parked on the hard shoulder), as there’s a danger that another vehicle will run into you (a surprising one in eight of all motorway deaths occur on the hard shoulder). Wait on the embankment or nearby land (this also applies to stopping on other fast roads). Failing to stop after an accident or failure to give particulars or report to the police are potentially two separate serious offences, for which there is a maximum fine of £5,000 and a licence endorsement of five to ten penalty points for each.
2. Warn other drivers of any obstruction by switching on your hazard warning lights (particularly on motorways) or by placing a warning triangle at the edge of the road, at least 50m behind your car on secondary roads and 150m on a motorway. If necessary, for example when the road is partly or totally blocked, turn on your car’s dipped headlights and direct traffic around the hazard. In bad visibility, at night or in a blind spot, try to warn oncoming traffic of the danger, e.g. with a torch, or by waving a warning triangle up and down.
3. If anyone is injured, immediately 999 for an ambulance, the fire brigade (if someone is trapped or oil or chemicals are spilled) or the police. If an ambulance is called, the police come automatically. Emergency telephones are provided on motorways. Give first aid only if you’re qualified to do so. Don’t move an injured person unless absolutely necessary to save him from further injury and don’t leave him alone except to telephone for an ambulance. Cover him with a blanket or coat to keep him warm.
4. You must call the police if there are any injuries, damage to property of a third party whom you cannot contact, or the road is blocked. If you think someone else involved in an accident is drunk or has otherwise broken the law (e.g. their vehicle is unroadworthy), you should call the police. The police normally breathalyse everyone involved in an accident, as a matter of routine. The police may refuse to attend an accident scene if nobody has been injured. Calling the police to the scene of an accident may result in someone being fined for a driving offence. In all cases, you mustn’t say anything which could be interpreted as an admission of guilt, even if you’re as guilty as hell. Admitting responsibility for an accident, either verbally or in writing can release your insurance company from responsibility under your policy. In other words, you must say nothing (not even ‘sorry’) or only that your insurance company will deal with any claims. Let the police and insurance companies decide who was at fault.
5. If you or any other driver(s) involved decide to call the police, don’t move your vehicle or allow other vehicles to be moved. If it’s necessary to move vehicles to unblock the road, mark the positions of their wheels with chalk and measure the distance between vehicles. Take photographs of the accident scene if a camera is available (a throwaway camera kept in your car is preferable to using a mobile phone camera as the later can be modified digitally at a later date) or make a drawing showing the positions of all vehicles involved before moving them.
6. Check immediately whether there are any witnesses to the accident and take their names and addresses, particularly noting those who support your version of what happened. Write down the registration numbers of all vehicles involved (or possible witnesses) and their drivers’ and owners’ names, addresses and insurance details. Note also the identification numbers of any police present. You must (by law) give anyone with reasonable grounds for requiring them (e.g. the owner of damaged property) your name and insurance details, and the vehicle owner’s name and address (if different).
7. If you’re unable to give your insurance details to anyone who has reasonable grounds for requiring them, you must report the accident in person to a police station within 24 hours. If you’ve caused material damage, you must inform the owner of the damaged property as soon as possible. If you cannot reach him, report the accident to a police station within 24 hours (this also applies to damage caused to other vehicles when parking). It’s often advisable to report any accident involving another vehicle within 24 hours to avoid any repercussions later. If you have an accident involving a domestic animal (except a cat) and are unable to find the owner, it must also be reported to the police. This also applies to certain wild animals, e.g. deer. Make sure your visit is officially recorded by the police officer on duty and that you receive signed verification of your report.
8. If you’re detained by the police, you aren’t required to make a statement, even if they ask for one. If you do make a statement, don’t sign it unless you’re certain that you understand and agree with every word.
9. Lastly, you should report all accidents to your insurance company in writing as soon as possible, even if you don’t plan to make a claim (but reserve your right to make a claim later). Your insurance company will ask you to complete an accident report form, which you should return as soon as possible (don’t forget to sign it).
Many insurers will handle a claim for you; otherwise you must write to the other driver’s insurance company yourself, giving details of your claim (but inform your insurance company). If your car is involved in an accident and the other driver isn’t insured or cannot be traced, you may be able to claim from a legal expenses scheme operated by the Motor Insurers’ Bureau (MIB) and financed by insurance companies (01908-830 001, www.mib.org.uk). The fund doesn’t cover hit-and-run accidents where the driver cannot be traced and claims are limited to a maximum of £100,000. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA), Edgbaston Park, 353 Bristol Road, Birmingham B5 7ST (0121-248 2000, www.rospa.com) and the Department for Transport publish various leaflets concerning car and motorcycle safety.
Drinking & Driving
As you’re no doubt well aware, drinking and driving make a dangerous cocktail. Around a tenth of all injury accidents (and over 500 deaths a year) result from driving with excess alcohol in the blood, and around 20 per cent of drivers and motorcyclists killed in accidents have alcohol levels above the legal limit. On Friday and Saturday nights between 10pm and 4am, around two-thirds of drivers and riders killed are over the legal alcohol limit. In the UK, you’re no longer considered fit to drive when your breath contains 35 micrograms of alcohol per 100ml or your blood contains 80mg of alcohol per 100ml (or 107mg per 100ml of urine).
For someone of average body weight, the recognised maximum they can drink and still remain under the limit is two pints of average strength beer or its equivalent. Anything more than two small beers or even a glass of wine may be too much for someone of slim build or someone unused to alcohol. Random breath tests aren’t permitted. However, the police can stop any car under any pretext (e.g. to check that it isn’t stolen) and ask the driver to take a breath test (particularly around Christmas and the New Year, when there’s a crackdown on drunken driving). This involves simply blowing into a device which turns red if you fail the test. It’s an offence to refuse to take a breath test, for which the penalty is the same as failing the test.
If you fail the breathalyser test, you’re taken to a police station and are given a further test on a special analyser after around 20 minutes. If you’re still over the limit, you have the right to request a blood or urine test, which may also be requested by the police. The police and most people choose blood tests. If a test wasn’t requested by the police, you must pay a fee if you’re found to be over the limit. Samples of blood or urine are put into separate containers, one of which is sealed and given to you for private analysis (should you so wish). You can still be over the legal limit the morning after a heavy night’s drinking. You can also be disqualified for driving while under the influence of drugs (cannabis smoked days before a test can show up in specimens and can result in a disqualification for driving while under the influence of drugs). You can also be convicted of being drunk if you’re ‘in charge of a vehicle’ even though you aren’t actually driving it. This carries the same penalties as drunken driving.
If you’re convicted of drunken driving, you lose your licence for a mandatory 12 month period, receive a heavy fine (maximum £5,000) and/or 6 months imprisonment. You can even be imprisoned for up to ten years if you cause an injury or death. Second offenders within a period of ten years are disqualified for three years. Drunken drivers must pay much higher insurance premiums after disqualification. Convicted drivers can take a hard-hitting course to get their licence back sooner (an idea borrowed from the US). Courses last for 20 to 30 hours, spread over five or six sessions and cost between £50 and £200. This can result in reductions of up to 25 per cent in the period of disqualification and a discount of up to 40 per cent on the heavy insurance bills faced after a ban.
If you have an accident while under the influence of alcohol it could be expensive. Your car, accident and health insurance could all be nullified. This means you must pay your own (and any third party’s) car repairs, medical expenses and other damages.
This article is an extract from Living and working in Britain. Click here to get a copy now.