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What Happens After a Traffic Accident?

Authored By: Carl Vinson Institute
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WHAT HAPPENS AFTER A TRAFFIC ACCIDENT?

This document tells you the following:

  • What must you do when your car hits another?
  • What should you do if you are stopped by a police officer?
  • What happens if a police officer suspects you have been driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol?
  • What happens if a driver 21 or older is convicted of a DUI?
  • What happens if a driver under 21 is convicted of a DUI?
  • In what ways can being convicted of a DUI affect you?

WHEN THERE IS AN ACCIDENT

When your car hits another car, you must stop at the scene of the accident unless there is no injury and no property damage. Hit-and-run driving is a serious crime in all states. In Georgia, it can be punished by fine or imprisonment-even if you didn't cause the accident. If you panic and flee, return to the scene of the accident or report to a police station. The penalty may be reduced if you do.

In Georgia, on two-lane streets, the law requires the driver of an auto involved in a collision to stop his or her vehicle immediately. The driver should try to create the least obstruction possible for other traffic.

On expressways or multilane highways, the same rule holds if there is an injury, death, or extensive property damage. If there is not, the driver should move the vehicle to a median or safety lane. The driver should not move the vehicle, however, if it would further damage the vehicle or create a safety hazard.

In any accident, notify the police or sheriff's department at once. Tell them if an ambulance is needed. If you are in an accident and it is the other person's fault, that driver may try to persuade you that calling the police is not necessary. He or she may offer to pay for the damage and suggest that you both deal with the situation later. However, the driver may change his or her mind or give you false information. It is in your best interest to call the police and get a police report. If you should hit an unoccupied car, try to find the owner. If that's not possible, leave a note with your name and telephone number.

If Stopped by a Police Officer:

  • When an officer signals you to pull over, slow down. Look for the first opportunity to pull off safely on right side of the road.
  • Stay inside your car and roll down the window.
  • Step outside only if asked to do so by the officer. This may be to check to see if you are under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
  • If the officer thinks you are under the influence of alcohol, he or she may require that you step out of the car. You may then be asked to perform field sobriety tests. These include walking a line, touching your nose, and saying eh alphabet. These tests are 100% voluntary. You may refuse to submit to them.
  • Provide the officer with license and proof of insurance when asked.
  • Provide the officer with any reason for violating traffic code after receiving explanation as to why our wee pulled over.
  • Always be polite. Officers have some discretion in issuing citations.
  • Officer may take your license and issue a temporary license to ensure that you appear in court. The citation should indicate when and where your court appearance will be.
  • Never try to flee when an officer attempts to pull you over. That will increase penalties against you. These include the possibility of license suspension.

In the 1980s, public concern about accidents and fatalities caused by drunk driving increased. As a result, Georgia, like other states, toughened its DUI (driving under the influence) laws. The legal drinking age was increased from 18 to 21 years of age. Local laws were passed banning "happy hours" or prohibiting open containers of alcoholic drinks on public streets. Lawsuit decisions made private hosts and bartenders responsible for accidents caused by persons who were unfit to drive when they left the host's home or a bar.

Anyone under 21 years old who is convicted of underage possession of alcohol while operating a motor vehicle may have his or her license suspended for 120 days. The license can be reinstated only after the person completes a DUI alcohol and drug awareness program. In addition, any person under 21 who is convicted of attempting to buy alcohol will have his or her license suspended for six months for the first offense and for one year for any subsequent convictions.

Drivers who are suspected of being under the influence of alcohol or drugs will be arrested. They will be asked to take a breath analysis or blood-alcohol test. A person can refuse. However, a refusal will result in an automatic suspension of the driver's license. There is no adverse consequence that directly stems from refusing to take the tests, but a refusal may be used against a person in a subsequent trial for DUI.

Under Georgia law, a person with 0.08 gram blood alcohol content is considered to be DUI without further evidence. An even lower level of 0.02 is set for drivers under the age of 21. If a person is convicted of DUI, his or her license can be suspended for up to a year for a first offense, up to three years for a second, and entirely revoked for a third. In order for a driver's license to be reinstated, the driver must complete an approved alcohol and drug course and pay a fine.

Persons convicted of DUI will most likely go to jail as well. For a first offense, imprisonment could be 10 days to 12 months; for a second offense, 90 days to 12 months; and for a third offense, 120 days to 12 months. In addition, community service must be completed: 40 hours for a first offense and 30 days for any subsequent offenses. Fines are as follows: $300-$1,000 for a first offense; $600-$1,000 for a second offense, and $1,000-$5,000 for any subsequent offenses.

Being convicted of DUI can affect you in other ways, too. Your insurance rates will go up. It may also be hard to get insurance. Other costs in addition to a bail bond fee for release after arrest might include a surcharge on the fine or charges for reinstating a license, towing a car to your home, transportation while your license is suspended, and enrollment in an alcohol abuse prevention program.

After any automobile collision, each driver should report the accident to his or her automobile insurance company as soon as possible. If the accident has no investigating officer and results in injuries, death, or property damage in excess of $500, the driver must file an accident report. This report is sent to the Commissioner of Public Safety of Georgia.

* Excerpted from An Introduction to Law in Georgia, Fourth Edition, published by the Carl Vinson Institute of Government, 1998 (updated 2004). The Vinson Institute is not responsible for errors in the online text. Content is for information only; in no way should the information in the book be considered legal advice to anyone on any matter for which there are legal implications. Any such matter should be specifically addressed with an attorney. The book is available for purchase at or by contacting the Publications Program, Carl Vinson Institute of Government, University of Georgia, 201 M. Milledge Avenue, Athens, GA 30602; telephone 706-542-6377; fax 706-542-6239.

Last Review and Update: Jun 15, 2005