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This article is focused on New Zealand law and explains issues from a Common law perspective.
How to deal with being in a NZ motor-vehicle accident
If you are involved in a motor-vehicle accident within New Zealand there are some basic legal requirements that you must comply with.
Stop and give assistance
You must stop at the scene of any accident in which you are involved and find out whether anyone has been injured. You should give all practical assistance to anyone who has been injured.
Practical safety steps
There are a number of practical steps one can take at the scene of an accident to reduce any further accidents or injuries, including:
- moving the cars out of the flow of traffic
- placing red warning triangles approximately 100 metres from the accident scene
- making sure that each car's ignition is turned off and that the handbrakes are on
Am I required to report the accident to the Police?
If someone was killed or injured in the accident you must report it to the Police as soon as reasonably practicable, and in any case within 24 hours, unless you are incapable of doing so because you were injured in the accident.
If the accident is minor and involves no injury, you are not required to report it to the Police, but you should do so in any case if you feel the other driver was at fault.
What information do I have to give the Police or the other people involved?
When the Police arrive at the scene of the accident you will have to produce your driver's licence. You will also have to provide them with:
- your name and address
- the name and address of the vehicle owner (if you are not the owner)
- the vehicle's registration number
You must also give this information to anyone else involved in the accident who requests it.
The Police will question everyone involved in the accident. If answering the questions would incriminate you, you should tell the Police that you would like to obtain legal advice before answering the questions.
The Police may require you to take a roadside breath test. You cannot refuse to do this. (For more information on breath-testing, see How to defend yourself against a drink-driving charge).
What information should I get from the other people involved?
Ask the other driver or drivers whether they are insured, and notify your insurance company as soon as possible.
It is sensible to get the names and addresses of any witnesses to the accident.
Write down what happened
You should also write down an account of the accident as soon after it as possible. Include as much as you can remember about the time, place, road conditions and other relevant circumstances.
Reporting damage to unoccupied vehicles or to property
If the accident caused damage to an unoccupied motor vehicle or to someone else's property, you must report the accident to the owner of the vehicle or property within 48 hours, unless you are incapable of doing so because you were injured in the accident. You must provide the owner with:
- your name and address
- the name and address of the owner of the vehicle you were driving or riding (if you are not the owner)
- your vehicle's registration number
- the location of the accident
If you are unable to contact or identify the owner of the vehicle or the property, you must report the accident to the Police as soon as practicable and within 60 hours of the accident.
- Do not offer money to anyone who was involved in or who witnessed the accident, and do not accept any money from anyone in the accident.
- You should never take money in return for signing a release form until you know the extent of the damage. It is advisable that you see a lawyer before signing any release, as it will prevent you from taking any further action against the other party.
- If it is established that you were negligent, you will be liable for the accident. Personal injury to the other party will be covered by the Accident Compensation scheme; however, you may still be liable for property damage.
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