National Road Victim Month
August 1st marks the start of National Road Victim Month and leading Newcastle law firm Irwin Mitchell says staying calm is the most important - and often most difficult - thing to do after an incident.
In 2006, 237 people died in road collisions across the north, including 19 in Cleveland, 59 in Cumbria, 29 in Durham, 69 in North Yorkshire and 61 in Northumbria. In the same year, A further 2,147 people were seriously injured in these areas, according to figures from the Department for Transport.
Although the numbers of crashes are dropping year-on-year, Irwin Mitchell says it is more important than ever for people to be aware of their rights and the correct course of action in the event of a crash.
Newcastle-based Irwin Mitchell partner Fran Mayes said:
"The sheer volume of traffic on our roads means, unfortunately, collisions are an unavoidable part of modern life.
"Much of the best advice you would give to someone in these situations is just good common sense, but unfortunately this can be the first thing to go when the worst happens.
"It is particularly crucial if people have been hurt - their lives may depend on the actions of those nearby, so staying cool and acting correctly is critical. A crash can be a life-changing event and if someone is seriously hurt they may need to make a legal claim further down the line - acting properly at this early stage could be vital for their long-term well-being.
"The first thing to do is call the emergency services if anyone is injured. Even if nobody is hurt, the police should be contacted and names, addresses and vehicle details should always be exchanged.
"After a crash, drivers should always stop - even if nobody else is involved. The law requires people to stop if there has been any damage to roadside objects, or the driver may have injuries, like concussion, that are not immediately apparent.
"People should try to relax, collect their thoughts and write down exactly what happened as soon as they are able to do so, signing and dating the document. Preparing a sketch of the incident will also help solicitors, insurers and police.
"Crashes are caused by a variety of factors, such as speed, tiredness, lack of concentration, alcohol consumption, vehicle and road defects, or dangerous driving. If there is ever any doubt over who is at fault, legal advice should be sought straight away.
"Also, always be honest with your insurers - many insurers will provide legal protection but this, as well as the entire policy, could be invalidated if people have been dishonest in the past."
Fran Mayes said there was also a lot of public confusion of the issue of compensation for injuries.
She added: "The majority of drivers involved in crashes will not seek compensation, but it is possible to do so if they have suffered pain, loss of quality of life or financial loss.
"Again, it is important to seek professional advice and to look for a reputable solicitor - one who has a good record of success and who is used to handling road traffic-related claims."
August has been named National Road Victim Month since 1998 because the first ever victim of a road crash was killed in August 1896.