Lucy Baring on accident etiquette

I’m never driving again’ were the words I could just about understand through the ragged breathing. Olive’s had her first accident, or, as we prefer to call it, bump. Having passed her driving test on the second go, our eldest daughter has been on the road for about eight weeks. She volunteers to get the milk and pick up newspapers and I’ve had to calm her father on numerous occasions, because these forays can take hours. ‘There’s only one spot where she can park,’ I reassure him as the clock passes the two-hour mark since she left.

Last weekend, she decided to brave it on a longish journey, which would take her via numerous roundabouts through a city centre. She arrived safely. It was the return journey, the following day, that didn’t go so well. Having got very lost, she was circling a roundabout yet again, when somehow (and she’s not sure how), a car shot across her bows and, in the wink of an eye, her front bumper had come off and was hanging on a thread, dragging on the road beside her.

Funnily enough, driving lessons don’t dwell on correct behaviour in an accident and, instead of stopping, she decided to get off the large roundabout and find somewhere a little less, well, round and busy. As she crawled along, another driver shouted to her: ‘Did you know your bumper’s hanging off?’ ‘Yes,’ she sobbed, looking for a layby. The other car involved in the incident was nowhere to be seen.

Several tearful conversations later, she limped home, having rung the nearest police station to report the incident. They told her to take her documents to our local station. Zam told her she should’ve stopped on the roundabout. I sympathised with her instinct to get off it. But why hadn’t the other car stopped? She was fairly sure it was her fault-the beginner always does, I suspect, but, as I wasn’t there, I have to believe her. The next day, we went to our local police station with all her documents. It was closed. Per-manently. I had no idea. We went to the next nearest-that was closed for the weekend.

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We went back on Monday. They said we had to go to the station relevant to the accident. Trying to be law-abiding takes some persistence. We drove 45 minutes to the other station. A charming policewoman stared at us in disbelief: ‘So, let me get this straight. You had a bump with another car and you think you’re the bumper not the bumpee. The other car didn’t stop. Nobody was hurt… and you’ve come in to report it?’ ‘That’s right.’ I felt we were moving from good citizens to time-wasters pretty rapidly.

As she took down our details, she also told us that it was nonsense that we couldn’t have dealt with it at our nearest station and that the journey to this station had been unnecessary. Another driver walked in. ‘Someone hit my van on the roundabout as I was coming home from work and they didn’t stop.’ I felt Olive tense beside me, except she hadn’t hit, I mean bumped, a van and it hadn’t happened yesterday.

The other driver’s officer confirmed that it’s an offence not to stop at the scene of an accident. Olive shifted from foot to foot. ‘I very much doubt this will go any further,’ smiled the policewoman. ‘The other car probably didn’t have insurance.’ More than a million uninsured cars are on the road in the UK, with a conviction for this offence occurring every three minutes, according to the Motor Insurers Bureau. I asked if Olive had done the right thing by leaving the roundabout and the policewoman agreed that it was a tricky decision.

One of the more surprising ensuing conversations was when Olive said, perkily: ‘To be honest, I don’t think the bumper was rock solid anyway’-because she had misjudged a gateway earlier in the week, which resulted in her hitting (we prefer nudging) a gatepost. I’ve called her driving instructor to find out about ‘advanced’ courses. The car is mended, she’s back on the road.

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