4 Mistakes to avoid when you are in a car accident

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Being in a car accident is stressful but just imagine having your insurance claim rejected because of something silly you did! That could be a financial disaster and make your unpleasant situation far worse. Don’t let that happen and take a look at these 4 common mistakes to avoid when you’re involved in an accident.

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By Sumarie Greybe, co-founder at Naked, a next generation insurance business

The annual festive season rituals of end-of-year parties and holiday travel are about to begin, 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. During this time of the year, many people take long trips, which increases their possibility of being involved in a collision.

What’s more, the risk of accidents 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 an 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 an 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 accident or their insurers.

2. Allowing an unauthorised provider to tow your car away

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 car insurance provider will have 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 and damage to vehicles 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. Of course, 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 accident 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 accident to the nearest police station and medical facility

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 have had such a blood test.

“We don’t think insurance providers are unreasonable in applying these rules,” says Sumarie Greybe, co-founder at Naked. “But we believe the industry could do more to help customers understand the terms of their policies so that they don’t have valid claims rejected just because they weren’t aware of the technicalities. It is important to equip the public with the knowledge they need to get the most out of their insurance.”

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