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Failure To Stop Or Report An Accident

As a driver, you have an obligation in law to stop if you are involved in an accident. This is so you can give your details to anyone who reasonably requires it. If you cannot stop, you have a duty to report the matter to the Police right away. Failure to do this results in an offence. Whether you simply suspect that you may fall into this category or you have actually received your Court citation you should seek legal advice from an expert in road traffic law.

WHAT’S CLASSED AS AN OFFENCE?

The exact offence is found in section 170 of the Road Traffic Act 1988. It states that if there is an accident on the roads due to the presence of a vehicle resulting in: injury to a person other than the driver of the car; or damage to another vehicle, animal or any other property on or near the road, then you as the driver have to stop. Anyone (with reasonable grounds for doing so) can then ask you to provide your name, address, the name and address of the driver and the identification marks of the vehicle. If asked, you must comply. There is no legal requirement to give any more details than this though, so don’t worry about having to provide your phone number, email address, name of insurer or anything of the sort. As long as you provide the required details above. A ‘person with reasonable grounds’ could be anyone involved in the accident or around at the time. So, this could include any witnesses.

It has become clear through previous decisions of the Court that the duty to stop means that you have to stop sufficiently long enough to exchange the required information. Though this may be common sense, it is definitely worth noting.

You may have to provide the above details even if you were not directly involved in the accident. For example, if you were driving the car in front of two vehicles which have collided, you are not directly involved but you could have had something to do with it. As with someone involved in the accident, it is vital that you provide this information.

If for any reason you cannot stop or you do not give your name and address, then you must report the accident. This must be at a Police station or to a constable as soon as is reasonably practicable, and in any case within 24 hours of the accident. It is important to emphasise that you must report ‘as soon as reasonably practicable’. In other words, as soon as possible. Many think that this provision means that they have 24 hours to report. This is not the case – this is the maximum limit and the sooner you report the better.

Mentioned above is the fact that you must stop or report an incident if an animal is injured. Not all animals are included in the definition though, meaning that for some animals you are not required to stop or report. The animals that are included are as follows: horse, cattle, ass, mule, sheep, pig, goat or dog. If any of these animals are injured or killed in an accident, then it is necessary to report the incident. If you are unsure though, it never does any harm to contact the Police anyway to double check. Even if you are certain that you don’t need to report an incident involving an animal, you do need to contact the local authority so that they can remove it from the road!

If you fail to do any of these things, then you are guilty of an offence.

WHAT ARE THE CONSEQUENCES?

The penalties for this offence have the potential to be particularly burdensome. This is because this offence was originally created to target hit and run accidents. For example, hitting someone while they are crossing the road at a zebra crossing and driving away. Thus, the consequences needed to be severe.

If convicted, you can expect between 5 and 10 penalty points on your licence and a fine of up to £5,000. For serious cases you could face disqualification from driving or up to 6 months in prison. Serious cases are ones in which injury or substantial damage to the other vehicle occur. To give an idea of what may be classed as a minor incident, in a recent case, the Court thought that a small bump in a supermarket car park at a very low speed merited the endorsement of 5 penalty points on the driver’s licence and a £300 fine. Even with the more serious incidents, with the help of an experienced road traffic lawyer you may manage to get away with the maximum penalty points rather than full on disqualification. This is left for the most severe cases. Clearly the Court are provided with a great deal of discretion which they can exercise whichever way they see fit. This is why it is important to seek legal advice, so that you can provide as much relevant information as possible for the Court to consider.

It may be the case that you have been charged with both failing to stop and also failing to report. If you have, the Court should not add up the points for each offence. In other words, they should not give 10 penalty points for each offence thus endorsing a total of 20 points. This would lead to some absurd results considering the maximum number of points you can have on your licence is 12. The Court do have the option though, for instance, to impose 10 points for one charge and then disqualify for the other.

As you can see, there is a wide range of penalties available. Some may have life-changing consequences and others are simply tipping the scales slightly further than an inconvenience. This is why it is vital that you seek legal advice, so that an experienced lawyer can advise you on how to plead your case.

WHAT ABOUT DEFENCES?

The Court do not look lightly on these kinds of offences. Failing to stop after an accident leads to speculation that you perhaps have something to hide. However, all circumstances of the event will be looked at by the Court. It could be that you had been drinking, in which case this will play a big role in determining your sentence. It may also be that you failed to stop or report the accident because it was so minor that it would waste Police time to do so. You may even be unaware that an accident has occurred! This will also be taken into consideration.

There is no specific statutory defence to this as such. There are, however, certain circumstances which you can bring up in court that will act as a defence.

Here are some examples:

  • If you weren’t actually driving on a road or in a public place at the time of the accident. This is because most road traffic laws apply only on public roads. If you are somewhere which cannot be accessed by the public, then this is a defence.
  • If you could prove that you had stopped at the time of the offence and that you had reported it. In this case, charging you has probably just been a mistake.
  • If you weren’t actually the driver at the time but just a passenger.
  • If you are unaware that there has been an accident at all. This is a common defence to be run. Like everything, it requires full investigation. For light impact, small scale accidents then this is a feasible defence. In this instance it would give you a defence to both ‘failing to stop’ and ‘failing to report’. It would be unfair if you could face criminal charges for something you did not know had happened. However, the greater the damage and larger the impact, the more likely it is that you would have known an accident had happened. This would make the likelihood of this defence being true much smaller. However, if you did not know an accident had occurred at the time but became aware of this information within 24 hours of it taking place then you take on the responsibility to report it as if you’d known it had happened in the first place.
  • If the damage caused was so insignificant, then it is unlikely that you will receive any onerous penalties.

The prosecution must also prove to the Court beyond any reasonable doubt that damage or injury was caused. This is a high standard. If the Court is left even just a fraction unconvinced, then the prosecution will fail. If they do not have enough evidence, then they cannot prove this beyond reasonable doubt. This means you will be able to defend your case successfully.

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