Un accident est un accident

We had a surprise visit from a couple of friends yesterday who had two, equally attractive, propositions for us. Firstly there was the offer of scrumping kiwis and persimmons from an absent British couple's garden and secondly there was the irresistible offer of dinner (moules in a creamy cheese and garlic sauce). We arranged to rendez-vous at their house to collect the house keys and set off along the quickest, most direct route which is the “snake highway”. As I've mentioned previously the “snake highway” is a narrow road with a 30kph speed limit on account of its twisty trajectory through areas of dense woodland. We have probably seen more snakes than cars on this road but as it was a Sunday we spot cars parked in secluded clearings and notice signs of la chasse in progress.

As we round a tight corner we see an oncoming car travelling too fast towards us. My stomach clenches with the sickening realisation that a head-on collision is inevitable. Jeff stamps on the Saab's breaks and we are actually stationery when the Nissan Sunny hits us. It's not a shocking accident due to the low speed at the moment of impact. I step out of the car to see if the other motorists are injured but thankfully they are unhurt. Their car however is a mess. The front is completely mangled and pushed in as far as the radiator. The bonnet is bent shut, the bumper is flared out at both sides and both headlights are smashed. Judging by the age and overall condition of the car it will probably be written off by an insurance company. And the damage to the Saab? The number plate is cracked.

So now there is the question of what we need to do.

“Ask for their insurance details”, instructs Jeff.

I do this and the young driver tells me that it is his wife's car (I don't think she's going to be too pleased) and that his documents are at home.

Now what? The driver and his passenger are extremely quiet. They don't speak any English but luckily I can speak to them in French. The problem is they don't seem to know what to do now any more than I do.

While Jeff is moving the Saab to the side of the road, locating his insurance details and trying to contact our friends (thank goodness for mobile phones) I grapple with the fiendish fold-up warning triangles we'd bought in Andorra. The young driver has kicked the debris off the road and closely studied the front of our car, thoughtfully removing a couple of large shards of glass wedged in the front grille.

Fortunately our friends arrive quickly and there is a polite exchange of greetings, handshakes and sincere expressions of relief that no one is hurt. They take control and agree with the other driver to complete a “Constat Amiable d'Accident Automobile” at the scene. Most French car drivers carry this form in the car because it must be completed within 24 hours of an accident. Failure to jointly complete and sign the form can result in the other party, even if they are obviously at fault, having no responsibility for the accident or any obligation to cover the cost of damage to your vehicle or property. The European Accident Statement is intended to provide a statement of the facts of the accident that is agreed by each driver and neither Jeff nor I have head of it and we certainly are not carrying one. Luckily for us the other driver has one and starts to complete the blue column for véhicule A. I notice that the cover of the form bears these 3 reassuring statements:

Ne nous fâchons pas (don't get angry)

Restons courtois (be courteous)

Soyons calme (keep calm)

We are all calm, we are not angry and we remain polite.

This reminds me of the cult novel The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy in which the guidebook referred to in the title bore the legendary words “Don't Panic” inscribed in large friendly letters on its cover.

We all agree that “un accident est un accident” and that it was unavoidable. The other driver records that the road was “mouillée, tres etroite en plein virage” and we replicate this in our observation box in the yellow column. We draw a diagram of a sharp bend with two cars heading in opposite directions colliding and sign the form. The young driver retains the top copy and we take feuillet 2/2 (the carbon copy) to submit to our insurance company. Should we be unlucky enough to be in a similar situation in the future we will have a far clearer idea of what to do and I am thankful that I wasn't driving!!!

Further information about the European Accident Statement form

The full article containing this information can be found at http://www.france-property-and-information.com/france_car_accident.htm

The following extract is copyright by FPSI French property.

The Constat Amiable d'Accident Automobile is, of course, in French and unless you are fluent in French, you should also keep an English translated version in your glove compartment, so that you can see what information you are required to provide and what you are signing. An English version is available but the bilingual version is probably more useful.

You can print off a copy here

Keep the form (and a ballpoint pen) in your glove compartment. It is also useful to carry a camera and mobile phone while driving.

Some tips for your consideration:

  • Once the form is completed and signed, you cannot legally add or change the form. Furthermore, it will be difficult (or impossible) to add or change any information afterwards. So it is critical that you fill in the form as accurately and as completely as possible.

  • If you do not understand what the other driver has written (either due to language or legibility considerations), note this on the form and provide your version of events.

  • It is best to complete the report in French, if you are able to do so. If you use English, the other party (if he/she is French) may later claim that they did not understand what you were saying and consequently were unable to register the disagreement on the form. In essence, the more non-French you use, the more you open the door for the opposing party to change their story at a later date. However, if your French is not adequate, it is better to provide information in English than to not provide it at all.

  • In the centre of the form there are 17 tick boxes. Ticking the wrong box, even if done so inadvertently, can result in you being held responsible for the accident. 

  • If there are any witnesses you should note their name and address in box 5. Failure to do so may result in their testimony being inadmissible.