Unfortunately breakdowns and accidents are everyday motoring risks. The safety of you and your passengers together with other road users is a top priority, so here are some tips on what to do if your vehicle breaks down or you have an accident, both in the UK and when driving abroad.
- Mobile phone
- High visibility vest
- Warning triangle
- A torch with spare batteries
- Blankets or extra clothing
- A bottle of drinking water
- A shovel or other digging tool if snow is forecast
Breaking down on a motorway or other road can be a difficult and stressful situation to deal with, more so if you are alone or are traveling with young children. Breaking down at night is a potentially bigger problem because other motorists are less likely to see you.
It pays to be prepared so keep the following items in your car.
And of course make sure you keep your breakdown cover and insurance documents with you. For more specific information click on any of the left hand links.
Stop on the hard shoulder as far to the left as possible. Turn your steering wheel to the left so that in the unlikely event of a shunt the car does not end up in the road.
Put your hazard lights on.
Find the nearest emergency telephone that puts you straight through to the Police. If you use your mobile phone to call for help, take note of the Highway Marker Post number. This will help identify your location.
Remember to face the oncoming traffic.
It is generally safer to get out of the vehicle. Do so only by using the doors nearest the verge. Then move as far away from the traffic as possible (up on the bank or behind a safety barrier if possible) but still staying close to your car.
If you are alone leave one passenger door unlocked, so you can get back in the car quickly if you have to.
On other roads
Try to keep going until you find a safe place to stop like a verge or gateway.
Warn other traffic by using your hazard warning lights, particularly if your vehicle is causing an obstruction.
If there is fast moving traffic then you are safer out of the vehicle.
Consider whether it is safe for you to fix the car or whether you need professional help.
If you are unable to fix your car call for breakdown assistance, using your mobile phone, or any other available phone. Make sure you know where you have broken down, or be prepared to give a detailed description of your location.
If you have a high visibility vest, wear it.
Place your warning triangle about 45 meters behind your car. Don't forget to retrieve it once you're mobile again.
Whether it's a prang or a more serious collision, car accidents are an every day occurrence. Here are some tips on what to do should it happen to you, hoping of course that it never does.
However minor you think a car accident is, you must stop. In fact, failing to do so is an offence under the Road Traffic Act.
Stay calm, resisting the temptation to scream and shout.
Take a look around and if anyone has been injured in the accident, you should call the police (and an ambulance, if necessary) as soon as possible. The police should also be called if the car accident is blocking the road. You should also call the police if someone leaves the scene of the car accident without giving their details.
Switch off all engines. Alert oncoming traffic, and use the hazard lights.
Don't admit fault. Apportioning blame in a car accident is for others to decide, given the full set of circumstances.
Use your mobile or a camera for photos. Take notes about what you remember seeing, plus registration numbers and weather conditions, and make sketches while your mind is fresh
Take the details of the other people involved in the accident - it's a legal requirement for all those involved to provide names and current addresses, along with insurance details.
Collect the names, addresses and contact numbers from any willing witnesses.
Having noted the positions of the vehicles and written down details from witnesses, clear the vehicles out of the way to minimise obstruction to traffic and risk of further collision.
Tell your insurer as soon as possible, whether you intend to make a claim or not, so it's ready for the other party's contact.
If you do not exchange details at the scene, you must report your car accident at a police station as soon as you can, and in any case within 24 hours - in person. You'll need to produce your certificate of insurance. If you don't have it with you, take it to the police station you nominate when you report the event.
Don't drive abroad unprepared. Familiarise yourself with the driving laws of the country you are visiting - including local speed limits and which side of the road they drive on. In France for instance it is obligatory to carry a warning triangle and reflective jacket. The reflective jacket must be stored inside the vehicle itself. Non-compliance is a fineable offence.
Check whether you need an International Driving Permit.
Service your vehicle before leaving the UK
Don't go without taking:
Your Breakdown Direct policy and contact numbers - of course!
A spare set of car keys.
Fire extinguisher, first aid kit, tool kit, spare bulbs.
A warning triangle.
Your registration document, driving licence and passport- check if you'll need an International Driving Permit (IDP) - you can apply for an IDP at the Post Office.
Your UK motor insurance certificate, Green Card (if issued).
A GB sticker clearly visible on the back of your car if your number plate doesn't include this information. You'll also need headlamp converters if you're driving on the right-hand side of the road.
You are most at risk just 60 minutes into your first car journey on holiday abroad. So, make sure your know the local road rules, and be aware of your own fitness to drive.
Statistics also show that the chances of being involved in a road traffic accident in mainland Europe doubles, and it almost triples in Greece and Portugal. Your Breakdown Direct European breakdown cover provides assistance both in the event of breakdowns and accidents. If you are planning to drive abroad see below for some help tips.
What should I do at the scene of the accident?
You should stop immediately if it is safe to do so, and place your accident warning triangle at a distance sufficient to allow oncoming traffic to take avoiding action.
Call the Police. Generally speaking it is the law in most countries that the Police must attend any accident involving a foreign vehicle. However, if you have insufficient command of the local language to do so, you can ask for help from the Breakdown Direct 24 hour roadside assistance helpline on the number shown in your policy documents.
How soon should I tell my insurers about any accident?
Immediately in the event of an accident that immobilises your vehicle, or Breakdown Direct can do this for you.
If your vehicle is still roadworthy and you're able to drive it, you don't need to contact your insurers until you've returned to the UK, providing that isn't more than two weeks away from the time of the accident
What should I say and what documents must I produce?
Say as little as possible and remain calm. This is especially important in any dealings with the local Police.
Do not admit liability and do not sign any documents, other than the European Accident Statement or "Constat Amiable".
You may be asked for the following items, so have them handy:
a. Your driving licence.
b. The registration document for the vehicle, to prove ownership. Other evidence may be acceptable.
c. Your insurance certificate or Green Card. In many countries, even those within the European Union, where your UK insurance certificate is acceptable in law, you may be expected to produce a Green Card as this has for many years been the only acceptable / understandable evidence of insurance for foreign registered vehicles.