Accident Crash Course
(What the regulations say and what they don’t!)
It’s Friday night, you just let your driver off for the weekend and are in for what you think is a leisurely drive from downtown Moscow to your home. Leisurely? Yeah, right – if you forget about the proverbial Moscow traffic – the one that can make a 30-minute trip into a 3-hour one?, and if you manage to avoid having an accident.
And what if you are driving, sitting back, relaxed, listening to your nice mp3 collection and suddenly the car in front of you stops dead in its tracks and you hit it, or the car behind you hits you in the rear, or someone runs the red lights and you hit them?
Stop the car (if it is still moving) and hit the emergency stop button, then lock your doors if it is only a minor accident – you never know if the other participants are guys like you or armed Russian mafia. This done, take a quick inventory of your physical condition and damage to your car as well as the other car(s). And kill your engine! You don’t want a blast or overheating due to a punctured radiator or gas tank. Never move the car after the fact of the accident – this will mess up the ‘crime scene’, is illegal, and will greatly diminish your chances of claiming your insurance; even if you happen to be in the middle of the road. Do not forget to place an emergency stop triangle 15 meters behind your car, or 30 meters, if you are on a highway. If you don’t have one of these things, it’s probably a good idea to get one. Many accidents are caused because some idiot failed to notice the wreckage ahead of him and added himself to it.
If the other guy is not charging at you like a bull (even if the accident is his fault) – you can get out of the car and ask if anyone’s hurt. If, God forbid, anyone’s injured – it’s the person who caused the accident who should call the emergency, and then the traffic police. If you are responsible for an accident and did not do the above – you just made it worse for yourself. This rule applies even if you are in a bad way; you should at least make an effort, for example by asking someone to call for you. You should also try to administer first aid, using your in-car first aid kit (get one). And if the injured person’s condition is really critical, you should flag down a passing car and send him off to hospital, writing down his name and phone number and the passing car driver’s phone number as well. For insurance purposes you need to know how it went at the hospital, and it is very important to see if you can find a witness, who will help prove your point if the police or insurance company have any doubt.
If no grave injuries or deaths resulted from your accident and if the physical damage to the vehicles is less than 500 minimal wages (this is not a joke), the case can be settled out of criminal court, and the guilty party is not criminally charged, but is under the so-called ‘civil responsibility’, which basically means that the person who caused the accident will not be tried and is only liable for paying the damage to the other car (in fact it’s the insurance company that will pay, if the guilty party’s OSAGO [insurance] policy is valid). The affair can be settled on the spot, but often in the heat of the moment you might not assess the damage correctly and may will end up giving the other party too much money. And you have no way of knowing whether your ‘victim’ is a victim indeed, or a professional ‘podstavlyala’ who earns his living getting into other cars’ way and milking the owner for money. So, if you have confidence in your insurance company and time on your hands, (the traffic police really like to take their time) – you should definitely call the police and let them deal with the situation. It also helps to ask someone local (your driver, or your Russian member of staff, your Russian friend, anyone!) to come over and help you with the forms and in the ‘negotiations’ with the traffic cops. The wisdom of the motto ‘when in Rome do as the Roman do’ should perhaps be born in mind here.
Try to control the process of evidence collection, be smart: try to give your account of what happened before the other guy does, without sounding over-eager. Stress the fact that you are an experienced driver and you were alert and remember all the details and are willing to give your testimony. If you temporarily lost control of your vehicle due to some technical problem, make sure you use the passive voice while describing this, i.e. say “my car has been thrown off course” instead of “I drove off course”.
The importance of a thorough accident description cannot be stressed strongly enough. Make sure you correctly recall and mention the time, visibility, temperature, weather and road condition, as well as some technical problems your or your counterpart’s car might have had (e.g. it was 2 below zero and snowing, the road was slippery and the other car’s left taillight was not functioning). Make sure the traffic police inspector mentions all this in his report. Take a good look at the accident diagram the traffic cop draws, and copy it into your accident description form that you are filling out for the insurance company. Even if you think you know which party is guilty, a certain road condition or some technical details may turn out to be exculpatory evidence for you or the other guy.
Make sure the traffic policeman makes a thorough inventory of all major and minor scratches and dents, all the broken lights or windows. Having a digital camera always helps. No one can prevent you from running your own little investigation, as long as you do not disturb the accident scene. If you were ‘lucky’ enough to have your accident near a traffic police station or a stationary traffic police checkpoint, the cops will take all the participants there and complete all the reports, giving their verdict right there and then. If not, the traffic cops will collect all the evidence and write out a court summons to the gruppa razbora – civil court that settles car accidents – to all the participants of the accident, and it is the gruppa that will determine who is the guilty party.
If you are wrongly accused of causing the accident, give it a good fight. Find witnesses, take wide angle photos of the accident scene that will include the road, the crossing, if any, the street signs, if any and whatever else you deem important. You may also find and submit an official weather report for the day/time of your accident and a road condition report done by an expert, if it is pertinent to your case. If you are confident, hire an expert team that will reassess the accident, but you have to have enough evidence and a good lawyer to prove your point.
Having determined the guilty party and having collected all the forms and spravkas, all you can do is wait and see whether the insurance company really pays.
It is an unfortunate fact of life in Russia that it is virtually impossible to live here a couple of years and never get involved in an accident, and it is a valuable experience. You learn a lot of legal formalities you had no idea existed, you learn to deal with the traffic police and other drivers, and you check the insurance company’s solidity.
- To report an accident, summon the traffic police, an ambulance or an ‘evacuator’, call 112 if you are on your mobile (the number is pre-programmed in your phone’s memory).
- If you are using a land phone line: dial 02 to call the police, or 03 for an ambulance.
- If you know there’s a traffic police station or checkpoint nearby – a surefire way to get the police to your accident scene would be flagging down a passing car and asking them to report your location to the cops in charge of the checkpoint.
- All participants of the accident should fill out their respective accident description forms together, so that you have the other guys’ info on your form, and they have yours on theirs.
- By law, the traffic police has to asses your case within 5 days, and the insurance company has to make a decision on whether to pay the damages and what amount it would be within 15 days. So, feel free to give them a push if they don’t.
- Paperwork you will need to claim your insurance settlement:
1) accident description form (the blank is given to you by your insurance company together with your blue OSAGO policy), 2) protocol osmotra DTP – the preliminary police report from the scene of the accident, 3) diagram showing location of vehicles 4) another protocol – this time a damage inventory, 5) spravka o DTP – this is a form that in fact proves that you really had an accident, usually you have to go to some local police station to collect it.
- The good old ‘adviser’ – www.gai.ru/adviser (in Russian only) has a lot of case studies on how the accident scenes are assessed, and some advice on how to deal with accidents.
- The accident is processed by a traffic police station or a civil court if there are no grave injuries or deaths or the car damage is under 500 minimal wages, otherwise it’s a criminal case, and the guilty party will be detained, his/her driver’s license revoked.