thinking about moving your car after an accident

In the stress and confusion after a car accident, you may wonder whether you should move the wrecked vehicles off of the road. Some will argue that it is best to clear the roadway. Others will maintain that police need to see the undisturbed crash scene.

There are several things you must do after a car accident. But you should not move a vehicle if someone has been killed or seriously injured in the accident. If the accident has only caused property damage and your vehicle is blocking traffic, you are expected to move it off of the road if you can do so safely.

Immediately after a car accident, you need to try to collect yourself and get ready to deal with the crash in a calm, business-like manner. First, assess whether you are hurt and how badly. Check on passengers and others if you are able, and determine whether an ambulance is needed. Phone 911 and request help. Then, determine whether you should move your vehicle.

Is It Illegal To Move Your Car After an Accident?

Some people have the mistaken idea that it’s illegal to move their car after an accident. Let’s try to reassure anyone who thinks they may get into trouble for moving their car after it is involved in a car accident. You won’t. What the law requires is that drivers remain at the scene of an accident.

Under South Carolina law (SC Code § 56-5-1210 (2012)), drivers must stop and remain at the scene of an accident that causes injury or death until they have completed requirements under another statute, SC Code § 56-5-1230 (2012). This is the requirement to share your name, address, driver’s license, and insurance information and to help anyone who has been hurt.

A driver in an accident is required to stop at the scene of the accident or as close to it as possible. You should stop your vehicle without obstructing traffic more than is necessary. The law stipulates that a driver is allowed to leave the scene of the accident to report it to authorities and then return. But given the prevalence of cellphones today, you should be able to report the accident without leaving the scene to do so.

If the accident has caused someone to be killed or seriously injured, do not move your vehicle. The law says at 56-5-1210(B) that, “where a vehicle has been involved in an accident resulting in great bodily injury or death to a person, the vehicle shall not be moved until it is authorized by the investigating law enforcement officer.”

Great bodily injury” means bodily injury that creates a substantial risk of death or that causes serious, permanent disfigurement, or impairment of bodily function.

It can be difficult to determine whether a person in a car crash has suffered injuries that meet the definition of “great bodily injury.” When in doubt, do not move your vehicle after a crash that has badly injured someone. There are no penalties for failure to move a vehicle out of the road after an accident.

What You Must Do If You Get in a Car Accident

The South Carolina statutes and the state’s motor vehicles code detail nine things you must do if you get into a car accident:

what to do after an accident

  • Stop your vehicle immediately and as close to the accident as possible.
  • If there is only damage to the vehicle and the vehicle is obstructing traffic, make every reasonable effort to move it safely off the roadway
  • Remain at the scene of the accident until you have completed certain required acts, including:
  • Provide your name, address, and license plate number of the vehicle.
  • Show your driver’s license if requested.
  • Provide assistance to anyone injured, including transporting or making arrangements for them to be taken to a doctor or hospital by calling for an ambulance.
  • After colliding with an unattended vehicle, either locate the operator or owner of the vehicle and provide your name and address or leave a note with this information in a conspicuous place on the damaged vehicle.
  • After an accident resulting only in damage to fixtures legally upon or adjacent to a highway such as a fence, or mailbox, take reasonable steps to notify the owner or person in charge of the damaged property and provide your name, address, license plate number, and, if requested, driver’s license.
  • Immediately report any car accident that has caused injury, death, or property damage worth $1,000 or more to the local police department, county sheriff, or nearest office of the South Carolina Highway Patrol. If the accident is not investigated by police, sheriff’s deputies, or the highway patrol, report it in writing to the S.C. Department of Motor Vehicles within 15 days of the accident.

In most cases, you can take care of the above by phoning 911 or local police department. When first responders arrive, cooperate with them to provide the required information and to ensure that anyone who is injured receives medical treatment.

If you can do so safely, it is good to take photos of the vehicles in the crash before they are moved off of the road and/or immediately afterward.

Situations in Which You Should NOT Move Your Vehicle After an Accident

After a car accident, safety should be your primary concern. The main reason to get cars off of the road after a crash is to avoid the hazard they may create for other drivers. If moving your vehicle is not safe, you should not move it.

In addition to not moving a vehicle if a person in it has been killed or severely injured, it may be unsafe to move a crashed vehicle if:

  • The shoulder of the road is unstable, not wide enough, or otherwise would not support vehicles safely.
  • There is an overwhelming odor of gasoline. This could be a fire or explosion hazard. Get away from the vehicle.
  • Crash debris in the roadway makes it unsafe to move the vehicle.

You are not be expected to move a vehicle if its damage has made it impossible or unsafe to operate.

If you feel like it is not safe to move your vehicle, then don’t. When the police arrive, they will either direct you to move your vehicle or move it for you if they want it relocated or towed away.

Contact a Car Accident Attorney in South Carolina

If someone else was responsible for a car accident that left you injured, you should consult a knowledgeable personal injury lawyer about your eligibility to seek compensation for your injuries and other losses. At Joye Law Firm, our South Carolina car accident attorneys fight hard for our clients. We are ready to discuss the circumstances of your car accident injuries today. Contact us online or by phone at 888-324-3100 now to get started with a free consultation.

About the Author

Ken Harrell joined Joye Law Firm in 1994, and has been the managing partner since 2006. With 30 years of experience, he protects the rights of injured South Carolinians, including cases involving workers’ compensation, car accidents, and defective products. Ken also leads the firm’s referral practice, helping to ensure that our clients receive the best possible representation. He is a past president of South Carolina Injured Workers’ Advocates, and has served as the co-chairman of this organization’s legislative affairs committee for 12 years.

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