Picture the scene. You’re driving along at peace with the world, when you feel a sudden thump. You’re shaken, but don’t feel any pain. The person responsible for the thump is driving off into the distance. What do you do? All drivers should familiarise themselves with the legalities and formalities of car accidents & whiplash claims and it’s just as important to understand how to manage yourself and your body.
Step 1 – Pull over as soon as you can
Even if you feel fine, pull over and if possible get out of the car. There are two reasons for this. Firstly you want to do everything possible to record as many details as you can while they are still fresh in your mind and secondly you need to ensure that you’re mentally and physically capable of driving safely and if not take appropriate action. As a minimum note down the date, time and (approximate) location of the accident and any details you can remember about the car and the driver. You are going to need to report the accident to the police and even minimal details are better than none (and you might be surprised what the police can do with them). Take deep breaths and make a realistic judgement of your state of mind. You may be well within your rights to fume but you may not be safe to drive. Find somewhere safe to park and make arrangements to be collected or use other transport. Check your body and see if there’s any sign of damage.
Step 2 – Listen to your body
It is absolutely crucial to understand that there is often a delay between a medical problem being caused and its symptoms first appearing. The two key hidden risks after accidents are shock and whiplash. Clinically speaking there are two kinds of shock. The first is the sudden reaction to stress and the second is a physical shutdown of the body, which can occur some time after the stress event (often known as delayed shock). Typical symptoms of shock include: pallor, weakness and trembling, sickness and giddiness, thirst and difficulty breathing. Be alert to these and be ready to pull over as soon as you safely can if you start to feel any of them and call yourself an ambulance. Whiplash typically causes pain in the head, neck and/or back area and often takes between 6 and 12 hours to develop. If you feel any pain in these areas after you’ve had an accident, particularly within this time frame, then go to hospital as quickly as you can. If you’re driving, pull over as quickly as you safely can and be prepared to call an ambulance.
Step 3 – Put in the paperwork
First of all, there is a legal requirement to report all car accidents to the police within 24 hours (even if no third-party is involved). Insurance companies generally require this. It’s also often worthwhile (or even required) to put in a report to your insurance company. Mention any symptoms you have felt since the time of the accident no matter how slight they may seem and regardless of whether or not you have seen a doctor. This will stand you in good stead if your issues later escalate and you need to seek compensation from your whiplash claims.