Hopefully, it will never happen to you, but if it does, forewarned is forearmed, and it is important to know exactly what to do if you are involved in a minor road accident (accident d’auto) in France.
Place the warning triangle (which the law requires you to carry in your car) at least 30 metres from the vehicle to alert oncoming traffic. Put on the reflective safety vest, also a compulsory part of your car equipment and turn on your hazard warning lights.
If there are casualties, call the fire service ( sapeurs-pompiers) on 18, the European Emergency line on 112 or use the emergency phones (orange boxes with SOS written on them) which you will find along the motorway and on main roads.
Always carry an accident report form (constat amiable d’accident) with you in the car ‘just in case’! You can pick up a blank form from most French insurance offices or bring with you a European Accident Statement normally provided by your British insurer. This form is NOT obligatory, but it makes any subsequent legal proceedings or insurance payments quicker and easier. It is simply an “agreed statement of facts’ between those involved in a motor vehicle accident but can save memory lapses or changing of the fact later on and avoid a lot of stress.
☛ Never sign a ‘constat’ unless you are absolutely sure that you fully understand and agree with the statement. Make sure that you tick the boxes that apply, add up the number of ticks and write this number in the box at the bottom to prevent the form from being altered later.
☛ Never let the other party fill in your part of the ‘constat’, no matter how nice they may seem!
☛ As there is a carbon copy, only one constat is necessary for two cars or less, and both parties should send their copy to their own insurer, within five days.
☛ If more than two cars are involved, each party should fill in a separate form.
☛ List all the damage you can see, and add “Réserves sur les dégâts non apparents” to cover damage which may be discovered later.
☛ Try to take some photographs – Note down names and details of any witnesses.
☛ If the other party refuses to sign the constat, ask to see their ID and proof of insurance and note the registration. The police will not normally attend an accident where there are no injuries but should be called nonetheless if the other party is being awkward.
☛ If neither party have a constat, the report can still be sent by letter, within five days, to the insurance companies.
☛ If there is only minor damage, one party may offer to settle directly if the responsibility is clear and agreed, to avoid losing the no-claims bonus. You are advised to fill in the constat as backup anyway, to avoid a change of heart later.
☛ Read through the constat carefully and check that the other driver’s details are complete .before signing. Although not obligatory, it is still a legal document which you will not be able to change later, and may be used in evidence..
It is now possible to use an ‘e-constat‘ or ‘constat électronique‘ depending on the circumstances and complete your statement via smartphone.
The free phone ap gives the option of completing the e-constat on one or two smartphones, with each able to check the information entered by the other driver. A summary is then sent to each party, and once agreed and signed, is sent to the insurance company involved.
Some useful vocab in case of accident
Tout s’est passé très vite. (too say passay tray veet) – it all happened very quickly