Accidents will happen. They are inconvenient, traumatic, often costly and the chances of having one on the mean and crowded streets of London are statistically several times greater than anywhere else.

One look at the rising cost of your insurance policy proves just how dangerous insurance companies think driving around London is. The Association of British Insurers estimates that about 70 per cent of a premium pays purely for accident damage.

So after the sound of the collision and and the tinkle of broken headlamp glass have subsided, what on earth do you do next? The obvious priority is to deal with any casualties, a job best left to the emergency services. Dialling 999 is a must. In general terms casualties must not be moved, unless there is a risk of further injury, or if a vehicle is likely to catch fire.

But let's assume that this is a straightforward bump - damage to the bodywork but no injuries - the classic rush-hour encounter.

The important thing is not to panic. Theoretically this is the sensible thing to do, but in practice it can be difficult to keep calm. Do not to get into a heated argument about whose fault it was. Do not apologise or offer payment, even if you think you may have been to blame; such rash outbursts can invalidate your insurance.

Sometimes witnesses' evidence will clearly lay the blame elsewhere, so don't be sympathetic, just stick to the facts. Your obligations at the scene of an accident are that you must stop and stay for a reasonable time and give your name, address and car registration number (plus the name and address of the owner if it is not yours). If anyone is hurt (other than yourself) you must show your insurance certificate to the police, or anyone else with a reasonable wish to do so.

As all the drivers involved must give their details, make sure you get all the names and addresses, including the true owners of the vehicles and any insurance details that you can. Just as important, though, is to get personal details and a brief statement from witnesses as soon as you can.

A witness is someone who is not a driver or passenger in any of the

vehicles involved. Other motorists, pedestrians and local residents who saw the accident all count. It is important to get to them early, as many will drift away, or don't want to be involved. Just ask them politely what they saw.

It is important to note down what everyone says at the time because

drivers who were apologetic can change their stories later on. Always note any refusal to give any information. Beware the overly co-operative driver when you are injured, because once they supply name, address and the insurance certificate there is no obligation to inform the police. If they had investigated, maybe they would have prosecuted. Legally, they are interested only where injuries occur, a driver is under the influence, or a

vehicle is unroadworthy. If they do attend the scene, note down their PC numbers and any comments made.

Record the scene of the accident with a sketch plan, marking the position of the vehicles involved, skid marks, speeds and directions of travel, names, widths and gradients of roads, position of witnesses, traffic signs, road markings and any obstructions, traffic conditions and damage to all vehicles involved - the more information the better. These notes are vital as they may be used in evidence should there be a dispute. A camera can be invaluable at times like this, so it is worth keeping one in the glove compartment.

In London some accidents have a criminal content. You get tapped from behind, get out of the car and it's a hold-up. If you are suspicious of the circumstances - late at night in a quiet road - lock your doors, note the other car's number and drive to the nearest police station.

Both the AA and RAC will recover a damaged vehicle, provided it is still on the highway, and then, according to the level of your cover, arrange repair and hire cars. The AA's Option 400 and the RAC Reflex schemes, both costing pounds 99, cover most eventualities.

Inform your insurers as soon as possible and send copies of all the notes you took at the scene, and follow their claims procedure to the letter. You must always inform your insurer of any accident, even it you are not making a claim. The RAC has just launched First Response, a 24-hour service for drivers insured through them. The first of its kind in the UK, it provides immediate legal advice, onward travel arrangements, vehicle recovery and message forwarding, all from one phone call.

Write to witnesses and ask them to confirm what they saw. Obtain estimates for repairs (ideally from reput-able garages) if you want to claim from the other party for damage and inform them that you are doing this. If your car is towed away, don't leave it in an expensive storage pound.

A helpful new product is the Accident Action Pack from Action Automotive - costing pounds 2.95, it contains a booklet and pen to record the accident, explains the legal position and gives basic first aid tips.

When driving, it is advisable always to carry a warning triangle, fire extinguisher, camera, pen and pad.

But the most important thing of all to remember is: if you have a bump - don't panic.

Action Automotive Products (suppliers of the Accident Action Pack), Suite 1, 281 City Road, London EC1V 1LA.

RAC insurance service (First Response details) 0345 121345.

The Motor Vehicle Repairers Association (information on local members) 0254 679976.

Vehicle Builders & Repairers Association (information on local members) 0532 538333.

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