Accidents do happen and they're not fun, that's for sure – so learn to stay cool and do the right thing after a crash.
1. First steps
Before doing anything else, make sure that no one is hurt. If they are, then ring the emergency services immediately. Try to keep calm – you may be stunned by the crash but take some deep breaths to get your head round what's just happened.
Act calmly and things will be easier to sort out – panic or anger won't help. If the car's still moving after the collision and you feel you have the car under control, you could be suffering from shock – you must stop the car and exchange details with the other driver. It is also a legal requirement to stop if a vehicle or any other property has been damaged.
Consider whether the crash site is a hazard. Did the accident take place on a blind bend or hill? Get passers-by to warn any approaching cars until the emergency services arrive to clear the scene. Call 999 if the wreckage could be a danger to any other drivers and call the police if anyone involved in the crash tries to leave the scene.
2. The other driver
The shock of a crash is bad enough but of course it may be made even worse if the other driver is angry or potentially violent. But don't let a raving driver bully you into taking the blame. Wherever the fault might lie, you should never admit liability – that's something for your insurer or even the police to work out.
Try to defuse the situation – remain calm and neutral, and focus the driver's attention on other things, such as helping to make the accident scene safe. If the driver approaches you with money, and says that there's no need for the insurance people to get involved, you should refuse them.
It's also worth noting if there was anything untoward about the crash. Had the other driver been holding a mobile just before the accident? Can you smell alcohol on his breath? Be discreet, don't confront him, but do tell the police when they arrive.
3. Exchanging details
Fussing about with exchanging details may be the last thing on your mind when your beloved motor has just been trashed, but it's the law and can help protect you further down the line. It makes sense to exchange as many details as possible.
You must exchange your car registration number, name and address, and details of the registered keeper if different from the driver. We also recommend you exchange phone numbers.
If the police are at the scene, you'll have to show them your car insurance document. If it's not in the car at the time, you should take it to your local police station within seven days. You should also take down the other driver's registration number in case they've given you a phoney name – the police can trace the owner with that information.
If you've caused an accident without anyone else being involved, such as hitting a wall, fence or parked car, you should report the incident to the police as soon as it's safe to do so, taking all of the paperwork and information above with you.
4. Gathering evidence
The boys in blue are the experts, but what if it's a minor crash and they're not needed? Time to play detective – make a detailed sketch of the scene. Note the exact location of vehicles and damage, road layout, street names, and the colour, make and number plates of cars involved in the accident.
If there are witnesses, get their details too – at the time things may look straightforward but you could get a surprise if you don't get backup. What about the fool who reverses out of a space without looking and you hit him? He's to blame, you think, until he tells his insurers he was stationary and you drove into the back of him…
If you're playing the professional, keep a camera in the car and photograph the entire scene. You might feel you're overdoing it carrying a notebook and camera but these steps will help your car insurance claim go quickly, smoothly and fairly.