If you're unfortunate enough to get in a car accident in France, there are several laws that you should know.
Remember it's your legal duty to help injured people if it is safe to do so. This includes calling the emergency services.
You can call the police or gendarmes by dialing 17 or on 112 if you are using a mobile phone from outside of France. If there are injuries then the police should be called and never flee the scene of an accident because you'll be committing a criminal offence.
You are also obliged to wear a safety vest and put out a warning triangle to slow other cars, both of these items are legally supposed to be in your car (more info on this below).
You will normally have to fill out an accident form at the scene (as will everyone else involved in the crash) called a Constat Amiable D’Accident Automobile, and it will likely be in French.
It's worth noting the constat are not compulsory. Filling out the report is a voluntary procedure but while the police will not demand you show them one, your insurance company might, so it's worth doing. But if your French is not up to scratch and you don't feel as though yo understand the process then don't feel pressured into signing the form.
You can get an English copy here. You should have copies of these accident reports with you at all times in your car in case you are involved in an accident with another vehicle.
These accident statements give a brief account of the circumstances of the accident, and then allows your insurance company to determine whose responsibility it was and the compensation that needs to be paid.
The form requires you to give an account of the basic circumstances of the accident but does not require that you or the other driver admits liability. So don't waste too much time arguing with the other river.Take photos instead and use the time to check the other drivers' documents or get the details of any witnesses.
There are two sections of the form, one for each driver to complete and it's important you check everything carefully (including registration plate numbers) and the right boxes have been ticked. If there's a dispute over the cause f the accident you don't want to accidentally agree with the other driver's version of events.
Make sure you get these documents right the first time, matters can quickly get complicated if you change them because the constat is a legal document.
The importance of the form can be summed up by Rob Gordon who was on a tiny village road when “in a spectacular display of bad driving” a Renault Clio coming the other way smashed into his vehicle.
Gordon told the Autocar website that he made a number of errors most importantly that the other driver had ticked some of the boxes on the accident report form on “his behalf”.
“It was foolish to assume that everyone is honest and would not make false claims. He claimed I was on the wrong side of the road – false.
“The final backlash came when my insurers scrutinised the “Constat Amiable” document.
“With the Clio driver having claimed that I was on the wrong side of the road and my signing the form – I was in trouble. Although it was a complete falsehood, there were no other witnesses and I had signed the document, so the insurers said there was nothing they could do. Even though I had disagreed with what he had written, his position took precedence.”
So while the accident report form is not actually compulsory by law, if you do fill one in you must make sure you are certain about every box ticked.
Also it's important to remember to get down any details from witnesses as well as any photos of the scene of the accident, if possible.
Lastly, send these forms to your respective insurance provider. You will have to notify your insurer within five days of the accident or risk losing any cover.
Five French words to know
une voiture – car
un accident de voiture – car accident
une panne – breakdown
assurance – insurance
une blessure – injury