If you are the ‘at fault’ driver in a New South Wales car crash and need to know where you stand in legal terms, there is good news and bad news. The bad news is that, depending on the circumstances, you could be in big trouble. The good news is that you also have rights. Keep reading to learn more.

What is fault in the context of a NSW car crash?

All motorists traveling New South Wales roads have a legal obligation to drive sensibly. By exercising ‘reasonable care’, they protect themselves and other travelers from harm. Someone who fails to use this degree of caution and causes an accident may be deemed negligent. Legally this means they are to blame, or ‘at fault’. In most cases, the driver at fault engages in one or more of the following actions:

  • drink driving;
  • speeding;
  • failing to heed a traffic light or sign;
  • failing to keep a proper lookout.

Your legal rights

As a general rule, you do not have to speak to the police if you do not wish to do so.  However, as a driver involved in a car crash, you are legally obligated to provide certain information requested by police at the scene. This includes your name, address and details from your Australian driver’s licence. If you refuse, you may be fined up to 20 penalty units, which is equivalent to $2,200.

The police may also ask you for a statement about what happened. In most cases, it is best to comply.  There are two things to keep in mind here. The first is that the police cannot force you to come to the station unless you have been arrested. The second is that you should not make any assumptions. Be sure to ask the officer if you must comply with his or her requests before doing so. If you have any doubts and are in a position to, double-check with your lawyer.

Sharing the blame

A crash investigation is conducted to determine who is at fault. In some cases, it is easy to see only one person is to blame. If you are found to be the only driver at fault, you may face criminal penalties and fines. You (or your insurance provider) will also be responsible for compensating the other driver(s) and/or any occupants of their vehicle(s) who are injured.

But what if the situation isn’t so cut and dried. What if the other driver also did something to cause the crash? Legally, this is known as contributory negligence. If you can prove that the other driver also did something wrong, you will not be solely responsible for compensating any injured person.

Consider the following scenario. Your pregnant wife sends you out to get milk and some snacks on a stormy, pitch-black night. It’s late and all you want to do is get to the shop and get home. Luckily, you get to the shop without incident. That is not the case on the way home, however. Your mobile rings as you round a bend, and the momentary distraction causes you to swerve into oncoming traffic. Another vehicle is speeding when you hit it head on. You and the other driver both sustain serious injuries.

In this case, both of you were at fault. You were driving while distracted and the other driver was speeding. Neither of you exercised reasonable care. However, it will be up to a court to determine the percentage of fault based on the police investigation and other factors. For example, a magistrate may decide you are equally at fault. Or he or she may decide that you are mostly to blame (70 percent). In either circumstance, the amount of compensation you are liable for will be adjusted accordingly.

It is important to note that liability applies to property damage as well as personal injuries.

In summary

Even if it is only a minor collision, being in a motor vehicle accident is a stressful, traumatic experience. It is especially stressful if you were somehow to blame. In addition to facing potential criminal sanctions, you may also have to compensate the other driver and/or passengers for any personal injuries or property damage.

However, it is also important to remember that as the driver at fault, you also have certain rights. BPC Lawyers are specialists in the area of personal injury, negligence and compensation, and has won multiple industry awards. Contact our Sydney personal injury lawyers today on 1800 431 590 for a free case evaluation.