Updated: May 11, 2022
Most people believe that when an accident happens that they should remain at the scene and call the Gardai. The first part (keeping your car at the scene) is correct. The second part (calling the Guards) is often largely pointless.
Defining what exactly constitutes an accident hasn’t always been easy. We all know one when we see one but what exactly is it?
“An accident” Sachs LJ declared was “an unintended occurrence which has an adverse physical result”.
The law very helpfully doesn’t explain what it is, leaving it up to the courts to figure it out. This hasn’t been as easy as it sounds. In the UK case of R v Morris (1972) an attempt was made to define what an accident was.
Justice Sachs (“Lord Justice of Appeal” to give him his full title) was 75 years of age, slow, deliberate and almost deaf.
He had served in the British army during the Second World War and was admired for his concise, factual reports that contained no wasted words.
In Morris, Sachs put this economical use of the English language to good effect.
“An accident” he declared was “an unintended occurrence which has an adverse physical result”.
Quite. But what do you do when you’re involved in one?
WHAT DO YOU DO AFTER A CAR ACCIDENT IN IRELAND?
If two vehicles become involved in a road traffic accident there are obviously obligations on the drivers of these vehicles.
These obligations are to stop the vehicle, speak to the other driver involved and exchange your name and address, insurance details as well as the registration number of your vehicle.
There is no obligation to contact the Gardai although this is certainly advisable if there is a dispute over the cause of the accident or where one driver is refusing to cooperate with the other.
People assume they just call the Gardai if an accident happens.
I’m not sure why.
What can the Gardai do other than -as they frequently do as soon as they arrive at the scene- tell both drivers to move their cars so that other vehicles can pass?
WHAT DETAILS DO I NEED TO GIVE AFTER A CAR ACCIDENT?
You must remain at the scene and exchange what the law describes as the “appropriate information”. This means identifying yourself (your name and address, registration number of your car) to the other driver and getting their details from them.
Ultimately when it comes to traffic accidents almost all insurance policies (small print in your insurance policy) will include a clause which allows your insurance company to settle any claim involving you in any way they see fit.
In practice this means that even if you believe that you are 100% correct and not at fault, your insurance company can disregard that and settle the claim accepting that you were at fault if they choose.
Why would they do that?
It's economically cheaper to settle potential road traffic cases as early as possible, rather than let them drift into lengthy and expensive litigation claims.
Back to your obligations.
HIT AND RUN IRELAND LAWS
In any accident you have to do the following:
Bring your car to a full stop (“if the vehicle is not stationary after the occurrence, the driver of the vehicle shall stop the vehicle”)
If anybody has been injured in the accident you must help them
You must keep the vehicle at or near the place of the accident for a “reasonable period of time” (what is regarded as “reasonable” isn’t exactly defined)
If a Garda attends the scene and requires details from you, you must provide them. If you don’t, you could be arrested.
If a Garda believes that your vehicle has been involved in an accident and somebody has been injured or property has been damaged and the Garda does not know where your car is being kept, they can demand that you tell them where the vehicle is located.
The offence of Hit and Run is covered by section 106 of the Road Traffic Act 1961.
This Act also creates a new obligation on the driver of a vehicle involved in an accident.
When an accident occurs the driver must assist anybody who has been injured in the accident.
If they don’t and the person dies, that driver will likely face a prosecution in the Circuit Criminal Court.
To be convicted of Hit and Run the driver must be aware that an incident involving their vehicle has occurred.
If they are involved in an accident of some sort (e.g., where a person’s vehicle scrapes the paintwork of another vehicle as they pass on a narrow road) and aren’t aware of it they can’t be convicted of Hit and Run.
In Hampson v. Powell (1970) a lorry driver was prosecuted for Hit and Run by failing to remain at the scene after the accident and for failing to report the matter.
The driver claimed he was not aware of the accident.
There were no signs of any damage to the lorry and the while the driver admitted to being in the area on the day in question, he denied all knowledge of the accident.
He was convicted of Hit and Run.
He appealed the decision and was successful.
It was agreed by the appeal court that "knowledge" of the accident was a necessary ingredient of the offence.