two pieces of paper with the words illegal and legal written on it

Is It Illegal to Leave the Scene of an Accident if You Are a Witness in the UK?

November 10, 2023

Accidents, whether minor or severe, can be distressing events for all parties involved - including bystanders and witnesses. While much emphasis is placed on the responsibilities of the drivers involved, witnesses also play a crucial role in post-accident procedures - but what obligations do witnesses have if they come across an accident? Is it illegal for them to leave without offering assistance or giving a statement?

While not legally mandated, witnesses can play an important role when it comes to determining liability - so let’s take a look at what might be expected of you.

Witness Duties at the Accident Scene

The Importance of Witness Statements

In the aftermath of an accident, witness accounts can prove invaluable: their perspectives can offer an impartial account of the events, often helping determine liability and clarifying details that the involved parties might be too shocked or biased to accurately recall. For parties seeking a non fault accident claim, a corroborative witness statement can be a powerful piece of evidence.

Staying at the Scene to Assist Authorities

While not legally obligated, staying at the scene until the arrival of authorities, especially in the case of serious accidents, can be of great help. Authorities, including the police and emergency services, might need real-time details to better understand the accident dynamics and offer the necessary medical or legal assistance, and a witness can provide this immediate account, helping to paint a clearer picture of the incident.

Providing Contact Information

Even if a witness cannot stay at the scene for an extended period, providing their contact information to the involved parties or the police can be beneficial. This ensures that they can be reached later for a detailed statement or for any clarifications that might arise during investigations.

Legal Obligations for Witnesses

UK Road Traffic Laws

The UK Road Traffic Laws primarily focus on the obligations of drivers involved in an accident, especially where injury or damage to property has occurred. For witnesses, there isn't a stringent legal obligation under these laws to remain at the scene. However, their role is undeniably essential in many accident investigations.

Duty to Report to Authorities

In a similar vein, witnesses don’t have the same reporting duties as drivers involved in an accident. However, if they believe there's been wrongdoing or if they're approached by authorities later, it’s a good idea to offer as much detail as possible about the incident.

Duty to Offer Assistance

While there isn’t a strict legal requirement for witnesses to offer assistance, the moral and ethical dimension can't be overlooked; in severe accidents where individuals may be injured, offering immediate help or even moral support until professional help arrives can be life-saving.

Potential Consequences of Leaving the Scene

Witnesses can provide crucial evidence that can help determine liability and support claims in the aftermath of an accident - however, there's a common misconception that they may face legal penalties if they decide to leave the scene of an accident. In the UK, while drivers involved in accidents have specific legal obligations, witnesses do not have the same level of statutory responsibility.

That said, leaving an accident scene, especially where your input could significantly influence the outcome of investigations or where your immediate assistance could help, may have moral and societal consequences. In some situations, a witness's testimony could be the determining factor in a just resolution, and opting out of providing that could indirectly affect the outcome of a case or accident claim.

Situations Where Leaving May Be Acceptable

While the moral responsibility of a witness is clear, there are a number of circumstances where leaving the accident scene might be understandable:

  • Personal Safety: If the scene of the accident poses immediate threats, such as fire, explosion risks, or hostile confrontations, it's reasonable for a witness to prioritise their safety.
  • Medical Emergency: If a witness has a medical emergency or is in a distressed state that could worsen due to the accident scene, departing is acceptable.
  • Unawareness of the Accident: Sometimes, individuals may not realise they've witnessed a significant incident until later. They can still come forward once they recognise the importance of their account.

However, even in these situations, it's commendable if the witness can safely provide contact details to the involved parties or report to authorities at the earliest opportunity.

The Bottom Line

Ultimately, witnesses play a critical role in the aftermath of road accidents in the UK, and their objective accounts can be invaluable in ascertaining the facts and helping deliver justice.

That said, there's no strict legal obligation for them to remain at the scene. If you believe that your life is in danger, or if there are already a lot of people on the scene, it’s acceptable to leave - just know that you can still give witness statements further on.