THERE we were, meandering through the outskirts of Baden- Baden - the German spa town in the Black Forest - anticipating a relaxing night out from our present home base of Strasbourg, when we had a car crash. It was then I discovered I was not in a Boy Scout state of readiness for dealing with an accident in another country.

The damage was to the car, not to us. The cause was a shaken-looking young man reversing down a one-way street at speed in a Ford Escort (his mother's, we discovered). 'Ein, zwei, drei' and 'bitte' are about my limit in German. He came rushing over, sounding apologetic. 'Nicht habe Deutsch,' I tried.

'Ah, you are English,' he said.

'Well, Scottish actually,' I replied, idiotically splitting hairs. I was just thinking we had had a lucky break to be in collision with a typically well- educated German when he introduced himself. Campanello, Angelo: he was Italian. 'Oh, God, my mother's going to kill me,' he wailed.

But then he seized the initiative. 'No argument, no argument,' he said, pulling miscellaneous pieces of card and plastic from his pocket. 'Here address, here name and entry card. Here the company who pay. I take your name, address and all fine.'

'Call the police,' urged a voice inside my head.

'No need for the police. Everything you need here,' he insisted, brandishing documents.

'But what if he denies it is his fault?' nagged my inner voice. 'There'll be fat chance of getting him to foot the bill long distance.'

By this time, a couple of old ladies were hanging over their balconies and a middle-aged man seemed to be taking my part, berating the Italian and demanding that the police be called. I managed, by gesturing and shouting, to persuade one of the old ladies to ring and report the accident.

Within 10 minutes two police officers arrived. They seemed to understand me. 'I need a bit of paper saying it was his fault.' I said. Angelo Campanello seemed to be taking the whole event on the chin, cracking jokes in German. But what was he saying to them? He could be telling them anything.

Constables Plewner and Feuerstein proved to be pleasant, calm and systematic men of few words - some of them, thank goodness, English.

Each of them took one of us aside. Driving licence? This I had. Insurance documents? My car was registered in France. Where was the carte grise (the registration document)? By some miracle I found it in the glove compartment. And there was the insurance certificate, tucked into a plastic docket on the window.

Constable Plewner presented me with my own copy of all the details I needed, talking me through it in English. The whole episode had taken 40 minutes, 20 since the police arrived - a small miracle of German efficiency.

If it comes to the crunch:

If you are in an accident abroad you will need:

Passport and driving licence (a pink EC one). If you still have an old green one, you should get it changed to avoid confusion.

Vehicle registration document.

Insurance certificate. (The Green Card, which proves you are insured to the required minimum level for all European countries, is no longer compulsory within the EC, but to have one may simplify dealings with the police.)

Some comprehensive insurance policies cover the EC and other selected countries. Others give only third party cover. Get the insurance company to extend the cover before your journey. You will still have to make arrangements about health insurance for passengers. It is probably simpler to take out an accident and breakdown cover such as AA 5 Star, the RAC's European Service, or Europe Assistance's Premier Service. This cover can be arranged simply for the period of your holidays.

From the other driver, you will need:

Name and address (and those of the owner if different).

Driver's insurance company and insurance number.

Driver's registration number.

Date, time and place.

Note down the speeds involved, width of the road, any road signs, road marks or conditions relevant to the accident. Try not to move the car, unless it obstructs the road or is in a dangerous position. Call the police and get them to fill in an accident report.

The AA's leaflet, Motoring on the Continent, gives a checklist of things to think about before taking a car abroad. Free from AA shops and by telephoning 0800 800 555.