If you’re involved in a road traffic accident, leaving the scene may constitute an offence in itself, in addition to any offence relating to the collision itself. Even in far less serious scenarios, for example, where a driver scrapes another vehicle in a car park or clips a wing mirror, there can still be serious consequences for failing to stop.
In this guide for motorists, we explain the different types of offences involved if someone fails to stop after an accident, the penalties for breaking the law and the failing to stop after an accident sentencing guidelines. We also look at what defences may be available for leaving the scene.
What is the law on failing to stop after an accident?
By law, where an accident takes place on a road or other public place in which personal injury is caused to someone other than the driver, the driver is under a legal obligation to stop and provide their details to anyone who has reasonable grounds to ask for them.
Equally, if an accident takes place on a road or other public place in which damage is caused either to someone else’s vehicle, to an animal, or to any property on the land or public place, the driver must again stop and provide their details if so required.
Under section 170 of the Road Traffic Act (RTA) 1988, there are three separate duties which a driver may need to discharge in the event of a road traffic accident:
- the duty of the driver to stop,
- the duty of the driver to report the accident where they have not provided their details on request,
- and the duty of the driver to provide information or documents.
Equally, three separate offences can arise under the Act:
- the offence of failing to stop and provide details
- the offence of failing to report the accident, and
- the offence of failing to produce an insurance certificate.
In a nutshell, the law requires the driver of a motor vehicle involved in an accident to stop and exchange details with anyone who has reasonable grounds to ask for them, if:
- there is injury to another person, whether in the vehicle or not
- there is damage to another vehicle or its trailer
- there is damage or injury to an animal, where ‘animals’ for these purposes include horses, cattle, asses, mules, sheep, pigs, goats or dogs, and/or
- there is damage to any property where the accident took place
The details that the driver must exchange are:
- their name and address
- the vehicle owner’s name and address, if different from above, and
- the vehicle’s registration
If the driver fails to provide their name and address, they must instead report the accident in person to the police as soon as is reasonably practicable, and in any event within 24 hours.
Additionally, where personal injury is caused to someone other than the driver, if the driver is unable to produce evidence of their motor insurance at the scene, if requested, they must again report the accident to the police and produce an insurance certificate as soon as is reasonably practicable, but within seven days.
Regardless of how minor the damage or any injury caused, a driver must comply with the various duties, where required, to avoid committing an offence.
Importantly, the requirement to stop after an accident or report the matter to the police will apply, and an offence will still be committed, even if the accident was not the driver’s fault. Further, if the driver stops but fails to give the correct details, they will still be guilty of an offence under the RTA. Providing false details is also likely to be treated by the court as an aggravating factor, leading to a more severe penalty on sentencing.
Penalties for failing to stop after an accident
The penalties for failure to stop after an accident, or a failure to report or provide information and/or documentation, are wide-ranging. Depending on the seriousness of the matter, including the degree of culpability involved and the severity of harm caused, the court can impose anything from a fine to a community order, or even a custodial sentence. The maximum penalty is an unlimited fine and 26 weeks’ imprisonment.
The offences also each carry between 5 and 10 penalty points, meaning a conviction for a motorist who already has points endorsed upon their licence could lead to disqualification under the ‘totting up’ procedure. This is because accumulating 12 or more penalty points within any 3-year period can lead to at least a 6-month ban. In the most serious cases, the courts can also impose an immediate disqualification from driving of up to 12 months.
However, the court has a degree of discretion when it comes to sentencing, where much depends upon the seriousness of the allegation(s) and the circumstances involved.
Sentencing guidelines for failing to stop after an accident
Under the sentencing guidelines for failing to stop after an accident, the decision-making process for the courts includes a two-stage approach to assessing the severity of the offence. The first stage is to determine the offence category by way of an assessment of the motorist’s culpability and harm caused. In the second stage, the guidelines provide a sentencing starting point, applicable to all offenders regardless of plea or previous convictions, plus a category range.
The guidelines also provide a non-exhaustive list of both aggravating and mitigating factors as to the context of the offence, and the offender, where the judge or magistrate(s) should identify whether any combination of these, or any other relevant factors involved, should result in either an upward or downward adjustment from the starting point.
Finally, having decided on a provisional sentence, there are then a final series of steps to help the court reach a conclusion, including accounting for a guilty plea and applying the totality principle, ie; where the motorist is being sentenced for multiple offences.
Determining the offence category
The three offence categories under the failing to stop after an accident sentencing guidelines are:
- Category 1: higher culpability & greater harm
- Category 2: higher culpability & lesser harm, or lower culpability & greater harm
- Category 3: lower culpability & lesser harm
Factors indicating ‘higher culpability’ include where there is evidence to show that leaving the scene was to evade being tested for drink or drugs-driving. Higher culpability cases can also include where the offence was committed by the motorist seeking to avoid arrest for any other offence, where the offender knew or suspected that personal injury had been caused and/or they left an injured party at the scene, or where the motorist gave false details. Factors indicating ‘lower culpability’ will include all other cases not involving these factors.
Factors indicating ‘greater harm’ will include where injury and/or significant damage was caused, with ‘lesser harm’ again being where these factors were not present.
Starting point & category range
Having determined the appropriate category at stage 1, the judge or magistrate(s) should use the relevant category range when deciding the sentence:
- Category 1: the starting point is a high level community order, with a sentencing range of a low level community order to 26 weeks’ custody, together with 6-12 months disqualification or 9-10 licence points (to be extended if imposing immediate custody).
- Category 2: the starting point is a Band C fine, with a sentencing range of a Band B fine to a medium level community order, plus up to 6 months’ disqualification or 7-8 points.
- Category 3: the starting point is a Band B fine, together with a sentencing range of a Band A to Band C fine, together 5-6 points
Aggravating & mitigating factors
Having identified a sentencing starting point, and the category of offence the court should then consider further adjustment to the sentence for any aggravating or mitigating factors. Aggravating factors can increase the seriousness of how the offence of failing to stop after an accident is treated, whilst mitigating factors are those that either reduce the seriousness of the offence or reflect some level of personal mitigation.
Aggravating factors can include where the motorist has previous convictions, especially for similar offences, and whether the offence had been committed whilst on bail, licence or post-sentence supervision. These factors can also include where little or no attempt was made to comply with the duty to stop after an accident and evidence of bad driving.
Mitigating factors can include being of good character and showing remorse, as well as where the motorist believed that their identity was known, genuine fear of retribution and any significant attempt made to comply with their duties. These factors can also include where the offender has a serious medical condition that requires urgent, intensive or long-term treatment; where they are the sole or primary carer for a dependent relative; age and/or lack of maturity; or suffering from a mental disorder or learning disability.
If a motorist is being sentenced for multiple offences, it does not follow that the court will work out the sentence for each individual offence and simply add these together. In many cases, this would result in an unjust and disproportionate sentence.
As such, to help courts reach a just and proportionate sentence in multiple offence cases, and to ensure that all courts approach sentencing in a consistent way, the UK’s Sentencing Council developed what is known as the Totality Guideline in 2012.
The Totality Guideline sets out two types of sentences for multiple offences: concurrent, where the sentences are all served at the same time, and consecutive, where sentences are served one after the other. Concurrent sentences will be appropriate where the offences arise out of the same incident and/or facts, such that the final sentence should reflect the overall criminality involved, taking into account the associated offences.
In some cases, where there are some offences that are very much less serious, the judge or magistrate(s) may decide that these should have no separate penalty. For example, where a motorist is sentenced to a 12-month custodial sentence for dangerous driving, they may not receive a separate penalty for failing to stop after an accident. However, where the failure to stop offence was a Category 1 offence (higher culpability & greater harm), the court may still want to mark the seriousness of this offence with a separate custodial penalty, up to 6 months, but to run concurrently with the longer 12-month prison term.
Defences for failing to stop after an accident
It is not uncommon for a driver to be involved in an accident but not even be aware of what has happened, or that they have caused any injury or damage. However, at the other end of the spectrum, there are cases where a driver deliberately flees the scene of a serious collision that has caused severe injury, often referred to as a ‘hit and run’.
In the former scenario, the motorist may have a complete defence to the charges against them if they can show that they had no knowledge that an accident had occurred where, to be guilty of an offence, the driver has to be aware that they were involved in a collision. In hit and run scenario, the driver is less likely to be able to defend their actions, given the circumstances involved, although there may be persuasive mitigating factors that could be put forward to reduce their sentence, especially if they have no previous convictions.
The most important thing, where a motorist finds themselves charged with a failure to stop or report offence, is to seek expert legal advice as soon as possible. With the right representation, motorists may be able to avoid conviction or have their sentence significantly reduced.
Failure to stop after an accident FAQs
What sentence do you get for failing to stop?
The sentence for failing to stop after an accident will depend on the circumstances of the failure, including the degree of personal injury or harm caused by the collision, but can result in 6 months’ custody and an unlimited fine.
What is the penalty for failing to stop after an accident UK?
The penalty for failing to stop after an accident can include a fine, community order or custodial sentence, depending on the severity of the offence and the circumstances involved. It can also result in disqualification from driving or licence points.
What happens if you don't stop at an accident?
Failing to stop after an accident when required by law to do so, for example, where the third party driver has been hurt, can result in a conviction under the Road Traffic Act 1988, potentially punishable with imprisonment.
Is failing to stop a criminal offence?
Under the provisions of the Road Traffic Act 1988, failing to stop after an accident in circumstances where personal injury has been caused to the third party driver, or damage to the third party vehicle, can constitute a criminal offence.
The matters contained in this article are intended to be for general information purposes only. This article does not constitute legal advice, nor is it a complete or authoritative statement of the law, and should not be treated as such. Whilst every effort is made to ensure that the information is correct, no warranty, express or implied, is given as to its accuracy and no liability is accepted for any error or omission. Before acting on any of the information contained herein, expert legal advice should be sought.