Procedures after an accident
AS we begin this long weekend, it is an opportune time to discuss this very sombre issue.
Rights: MIRIAM TOSE MAJOME
It is a fact that there will be an increase in the number of traffic accidents over the long holiday, which ends on Tuesday evening.
People will be lucky to escape alive or and some with injuries some permanent.
Unfortunately, some people will lose their lives in just that fraction of a second it takes to have a collision.
Some people, who are alive today may never return home or to work again on Wednesday morning.
Thousands of dollars’ worth of property and valuable investments will be lost.
Accidents are always regrettable and death so final and irrevocable.
Some people will be perpetrators and some will be innocent victims.
Causes of accidents are plentiful such as drunken and negligent driving, bad road standards, poor weather conditions which affect visibility and vehicle performance.
Stray animals are a leading causes of accidents on the country’s roads.
Regardless of fault, today we discuss simple practical steps to take in the event of an accident.
Duty of drivers — serious accidents
The Road Traffic Act Chapter 13:11 section 70 sets out the duties of drivers when involved in accidents.
Section 70(2) states that any person, who is a driver of a vehicle on or near a road at the time when the vehicle is involved in or contributes to an accident in which injury is caused to any person or damage to any property or if a person or animal is killed the first duty is to stop immediately.
Failure to stop when an accident occurs is a serious criminal offence — in other words hitting and running is a crime no matter the circumstance.
After stopping, the second duty is to ascertain whether any person has been killed or injured.
The third duty is to render any assistance possible or capable of being reasonably rendered.
If someone has died, the other driver, regardless of fault, has a duty to take all reasonable measures to guard the corpse until the police arrive.
It is a requirement to alert the police immediately if the accident involves another vehicle or is of a serious nature.
Measures should be taken to contact the nearest police station or the traffic police general line.
The police should attend to all accident scenes.
It is an offence to tamper with evidence at an accident scene.
However, precaution should be taken as far as possible not to cause a further danger to the accident victims and to other road users.
This is where break down triangles and hazard lights come in handy.
For less serious accidents in which no person or animal is killed or injured and where only the driver’s property is damaged, these still have to be reported to the police and this should be done within 24 hours.
It is very possible to have an accident by oneself for example, while reversing out of a garage or hitting the gate or a similar obstruction.
Vehicle accidents and mishaps take any shape or form and it is an offence not to report any vehicle accident.
Imprisonment can be up to six months and may include a fine.
In any event, insurance claims, even for solo accidents require a police report to be processed.
Duty to comply with police
There is a duty to comply with the police at the scene of the accident.
The driver has a duty to furnish all the information required by the police.
Withholding relevant information is an offence such as concealing the circumstances of the accident.
It is not uncommon for drivers to conceal their identities and address particulars.
It is a requirement to give the driver’s name and address.
If they do not own the vehicle, they must provide the vehicle’s owner’s details, like the vehicle registration number and insurance details.
It is a criminal offence to fail to comply with lawful police orders and the sanction can be imprisonment up to a year including a fine.
While full disclosure of the accident details is important, it is never advised to admit liability at the accident scene.
The driver must just explain what happened without ever admitting guilt.
Admitting guilt is premature, as it will be decided by a court.
Admitting guilt at the accident scene or at any time before the matter is heard in court has serious implications on insurance claims and any other civil or criminal charges.
Section 20 compels every motor vehicle and trailer to be insured in respect of third party risks.
This is a statutory licence, whose conditions of use are established by a statutory instrument.
It is a criminal offence for a vehicle that is in use not to have third party insurance.
Ordinarily, vehicle licences cannot be issued if they are not insured.
Third party insurance means that the insurance policy will pay out claims to the other party involved in the accident if the driver is at fault.
The policy holder, whose vehicle caused the accident, cannot claim from their own insurance even if they are the ones who paid for it.
However, the reality is that not all vehicles are insured as they should be.
A disturbingly and surprisingly vast number of vehicles plying the roads is not insured bringing to question the benefit of the ubiquitous so-called police check points.
It is not possible that a motor vehicle on a Zimbabwean road has never been stopped by the police to check for something.
Public passenger service vehicles such as buses and commuter omnibuses are compelled to have no fault insurance cover to cover passengers regardless of fault.
When passengers on buses and commuter omnibuses are injured or killed in an accident, they should be paid a stipulated amount of money.
In addition, victims can put further claims to the service provider.
In practice, it is very difficult to receive the money after putting in the claim.
Generally, the administration of the public transport sector is murky and unstructured.
Claims should still be pursued regardless.
The reason is that a lot of operators do not have valid paid up policies even when they display insurance discs.
Before embarking on a bus or commuter omnibus, it is worthwhile to check for insurance discs, which should be displayed prominently and to even go further and enquire and ascertain the validity, thereof.
Miriam Tose Majome is a lawyer and a teacher. She can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org