Ask LH: Should I Volunteer My Details If I Witness A Minor Car Accident?

Ask LH: Should I Volunteer My Details If I Witness A Minor Car Accident?

Dear Lifehacker, When witnessing a minor traffic accident, what should I do? Assuming both attendees are calm, should I volunteer my details? Does an insurer care about witnesses? Thanks, TrafficTroubled

Car accident image via Shutterstock

Dear TT,

Coming forward as a witness of a minor traffic accident can often make the innocent party’s life a lot easier, but also means you may end up having to deal with their insurance yourself, with no real incentive other than the obvious moral considerations. First off, you are not obliged by law to stop or give your details if you witness a traffic accident — in fact most police guides stipulate that only willing witnesses should be contacted.

It is a good thing to do if you have the time to stop, however — insurers definitely do care about witnesses, as having the contact details for one can make a process much simpler when conflicting reports are given by the two parties. Even if one party verbally accepts fault for the action when you stop, you should still leave at least a phone number (though a name is also helpful) in case they change their tone when reporting the accident to their insurer.

So while it isn’t required of you by law to offer your details when witnessing an accident, it is going to save a couple of other people a big headache through the claim process — and if you find yourself the victim of another careless driver, you’ll most likely hope that someone else feels generous enough to act as a witness for you too.


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  • I remember calling in a moderate traffic incident where a drunk driver collided with an oncoming vehicle and tried to escape the scene (hilarious Benny Hill-style running around). I stayed around to give my details as a witness, but when I identified myself to a policewoman at the scene she said “oh just fuck off”.
    At least I didn’t waste any more time.

  • Having been the innocent party in two separate incidents where I didn’t have a witness to vouch for me and spent weeks trying to resolve insurance claims, I am now more than willing to provide my details as a witness… So far I’ve been contacted by insurance companies about 50% of the time and all they’ve wanted was the completion of a simple questionnaire about the incident…
    Happy to spend 15 minutes of my time to save somebody else the drama that I had to go through…

  • Had a drunk/drug lunatic sideswipe my car last year and drive off without stopping almost causing more accidents down the road. Short of me having all the details already, an anonymous witness later called into the police to report the same incident backing it up. Made me, the police and insurance agencies lives so much easier having a 3rd party witness.

  • “First off, you are not obliged by law to stop or give your details if you witness a traffic accident ”

    I query this. If it was a normal fender-bender, then OK.

    If it was serious (injuries or death), I was always under the impression that regardless of your involvement (or non-involvement), you were required to stop and render assistance.

    • As taught in my first-aid course (so there may be some slight differences), the law states that you have absolutely no obligation* to help someone you see that requires medical aid. You can literally just walk past and ignore it. If you do stop, however, you are legally bound to stay and provide assistance as best you can until a more qualified person arrives (ambulance, etc). You can definitely get in major trouble if you start to help, then change your mind, and leave.

      *unless you are an ER nurse/doctor etc, then is different I think? I can’t remember exactly

  • I was the last car that nearly came in contact with 3 other cars in a collision back a good year or so ago… I never made any kind of contact as I was able to stop in time and avoided the car in front of me.. I pulled over to give the other 3 cars my details as a witness to try and save people having to go through insurance company pains. Later on that day I had a phone call from the police accusing me of causing a hit and run and not reporting a collision with the car in front of me. I told the officer that I have video evidence of the car crash which he then viewed and told me that I was safe and didn’t require any more information from me. So.. even if you are nice and do give your details.. there’s always a bad egg out there willing to put the blame on someone else just to try and avoid their own insurance i suppose.. kinda sad.

  • “Even if one party verbally accepts fault for the action”
    I was told by an insurance company that the above is determined by law.

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