In case of an accident, wear legal safety belt

Speaking from the bar

Warm weather or cold, the Northern Illinois winter season is in full force, carrying with it treacherous driving conditions. Packed snow, ice, fog and glare are all common contributors to auto accidents.

Extra caution is needed to prevent accidents. This week’s column is intended to help you avoid unnecessary difficulties if you have the misfortune to be involved in an auto accident.

Obviously, your first concern should be to assist anyone who might have been physically injured in the accident. Call a doctor and/or ambulance. If you are not proficient in first aid, don’t try it, because you might be making the situation worse.

In addition to helping the injured, there a several other things you should keep in mind in an accident situation:

You should stop your car as soon as you can do so safely. Try to avoid blocking other traffic. Leaving the scene of an accident is a criminal offense which could result in incarceration, a fine and loss of your driving privilege.

If the accident occurs within the city, call the city police. On the open highway, call the nearest state police station or the county sheriff’s office. Police authorities are experienced in handling emergencies. Let them assist you.

If the accident was the other person’s fault, you will be giving up a source of help if you do not notify the police. Many people who have fallen prey to the request, “Please, let’s not involve the police,” have lived to later regret their decision.

The Illinois Motor Vehicle Code requires the parties involved to provide their name, address and license number of their vehicle to other parties involved.

If requested, a driver must exhibit his or her driver’s license. To leave the accident scene without furnishing such information could result in criminal prosecution.

If you hit an unattended vehicle, the law requires you to stop immediately, and either locate the owner or operator of the vehicle and provide him with your name, address and registration number, or leave a written message containing such information in a conspicuous place in or on the unattended vehicle.

In the event you leave a message, the law also requires you to notify the police about the accident without unnecessary delay.

In providing information, realize you cannot be required to make a statement. Generally, the best policy is to give no more information than the law itself requires particularly in any accident involving personal injury or death.

You also want to obtain information for yourself. Get the name, address and license number of the other involved parties. Under the new mandatory insurance law, the other driver (and you) must carry evidence of his or her insurance within the vehicle, so this information should be available as well.

Attempt to get the names and addresses of witnesses and onlookers, you may never see them again otherwise. This information could be vital if legal action results. Diagrams of the accident scene can be useful. Finally, take pictures of the damaged areas of your vehicle and the other car as soon as possible.

Be sure to call your insurance company. The insurance company might wish to visit the scene of the accident to acquire evidence as to fault, etc. All insurance companies require that they be notified promptly.

Even if you think you are not injured, you should still consider seeing a physician. Injuries could have occurred that are not apparent. Do not “be brave.” Play it safe and be examined professionally. If aches and pains persist, or you continue to feel dragged out, depressed or nervous, be sure to go back to the physician for further diagnosis or treatment.

The Illinois Motor Vehicle Code requires you to file an accident report whenever the accident results in personal injury or property damage in excess of $250. Report forms may be obtained from your local police and must be filed within 10 days of the accident. Failure to file a report could result in the loss of your driver’s license. Take time to insure the report is as accurate and thorough as you can reasonably make it.

The completed report should be sent to: State of Illinois, Department of Transportation, Safety Responsibility Section, Springfield, IL 62766.

Generally, it is best to consult an attorney about your rights and responsibilities. You could have a legitimate claim against the other party or parties for your damages. Act rationally, do not panic and drive carefully and defensively in the future.

Don Henderson

Lynn Richards

Students Legal Assistance