Failing to stop and/or report an accident

Section 170 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 imposes a duty on drivers to stop and exchange particulars if there has been any kind of accident. Particulars are defined as name and address and also the name and address of the owner of the vehicle and identification marks of the vehicle. If for any reason that cannot be done then the driver is under a duty to report the accident to the police as soon as a reasonably practicable and in any case within 24 hours. A failure to exchange particulars or to report an accident is punishable with a prison sentence of up to 6 months and/or a maximum fine of £5,000 and a licence endorsement of between 5 and 10 penalty points or in more serious cases a disqualification from driving.

This particular area of law has given rise to two very commonly held misconceptions;

a)     that you must physically stop the vehicle you are driving after an accident and that that is sufficient. Although the term stop is used, within the meaning of the act to stop means specifically to do so and to exchange particulars principally to give your name and address. If you stop your vehicle but refuse to give your name and address then you will have committed the offence however if you do give your name and address to the other driver then you need not also report the matter to the police.

b)     that you have up to 24 hours in which to report the accident. This belief is very widely held and is quite wrong. Section 170(6)(b) indicates that the driver “must do so (report) as soon as is reasonably practicable and in any case within 24 hours of the occurrence of the accident”. In other words, rather than the driver having a full 24 hours in which he may choose to report the accident he must report the accident as soon as is reasonably practicable and in any event after 24 hours the offence is committed.

Road rage incidents have unfortunately become a more common feature of life and have complicated the legal position somewhat in this area. Although the law indicates that a driver has a duty to stop and give particulars the police themselves advise drivers who fear they may be involved in some form of ‘road rage’ incident not to lay themselves open to the danger of being assaulted but should rather drive to the nearest police station. It may be that although the law requires a driver to stop at the time of the accident and to exchange details that there could, therefore, be circumstances in which it will be appropriate not to exchange details but actually to drive immediately to the nearest police station and to report that incident there if there was a real danger of the driver being assaulted if he should attempt to stop and give particulars. Be aware that if you are placed in the situation where you may feel in danger and take the view that it would be best not to stop and give particulars then you should drive immediately to the next police station, in order to report the incident in full to the police in order to avoid being prosecuted for an offence of failing to stop and/or report an accident.

Jeremy Sirrell