Editor’s note: This piece is based on the experiences and research of staff writer Rabia Coombs.
GRAFENWOEHR, Germany — With 391,125 accidents in the state of Bavaria in 2015 alone, the question of what to do when involved in an off-post car accident should have been on my personal radar. Well, it was not! As things go, I got into a fender bender off-post in Germany.
Vaguely remembering something about 911 not being the emergency phone number in Germany, a reflective vest I was required to buy to pass my privately owned vehicle inspection, and a warning triangle, I was utterly unprepared for this situation.
Well, I moved my van out of traffic and did what I always do when trying to share responsibility — I called my spouse. I got lucky. Not only did he answer the phone immediately, but he had the Military Police, or MP, phone number and contacted them for me. The German police was contacted by the other party involved and — as I found out later — by the MPs.
Two German Police Officers ensured that all parties involved in the accident exchanged contact and insurance information. They explained to me that they do not ascertain who is at fault, but who caused the accident. On site, I was found not to be the cause of the accident — a fact which had impact on my insurance deductible and, as I found out later, implicated possible charges.
The German Police explained they would not conduct a detailed investigation or take photos, but they recommended that I take pictures of damages of the involved cars. The officers provided me with their names and precinct information for follow-up questions and told me that a police report will be sent to the MP station. Lastly, they explained that the report will not be given to private persons, but that a lawyer or insurance agency can request the report easily.
I got lucky – big time! There were no injuries, and other people contacted the right authorities for me. Here is what you should know about correctly handling an accident off post.
Stop and assess the situation
“First, check to see if everyone is OK and, if necessary, provide first aid,” said Staff Sgt. Robert Green, the garrison’s Traffic Management and Collision Investigation Supervisor.
German law requires everyone on and near the scene to help the injured to the best of their abilities.
“If you do not know how to help, get immediate help elsewhere. Bystanders are also required to help,” said Gerhard Maenner, USAG Bavaria German Polizei Liaison.
Secure the scene
Next secure the scene. If possible and no one is injured, pull your vehicle to the side and out of the traffic flow, explained Green.
“Put on your safety vest and set up your warning triangle. You may get fined if you neglect to do so,” said Green.
“Before you move your vehicle you may take photos and mark the position of the vehicles with chalk. Most first aid kits include chalk,” said Maenner.
There are rules pertaining to distance from the accident site and where you set up the warning triangle. The rule of thumb is to set the warning triangle the distance in meters that corresponds to the speed limit.
“If the speed limit is 50 kilometers per hour, set up your warning triangle 50 meters from the accident site. If you have an accident on the Autobahn, you need to set it up at least 150 meters from the accident site. The guard poles on the Autobahn are set up every 50 meters. You can use them as a guideline to measure the distance,” said Maenner.
However, whatever you do, safety is the main concern.
“Make sure you stay safe when securing the accident site. If your accident took place on the Autobahn, everyone needs to get out the vehicles immediately and go behind the guard rails. Put on your safety vest and walk behind the guard rails to set up the warning triangle,” said Maenner.
Further, Maenner recommends practicing setting up warning triangles.
“In the excitement of an actual accident, it might prove rather complicated,” said Maenner.
Who to notify
Once the situation is assessed, any possible injuries are ascertained, first aid is provided and the accident is secured, contact the MPs at CIV 0711-680- 5262 and the German Polizei, advises Green. German emergency numbers for the police are 110 for an ambulance and 112 for the fire department.
“It doesn’t matter if you confuse the two numbers, the police will contact the ambulance and fire department and vice versa,” said Maenner.
“If you call us, we contact the Polizei for you too, even if everyone involved is a DOD ID card holder. We are dealing with their traffic flow in those situations,” said Green.
Provide a short description of the situation, and report any possible injuries and your location. You should find street names at all junctions. Landstrassen, Bundesstrassen and Autobahn have poles with little plaques identifying their location. The little small black arrows on the poles indicate the direction of the nearest emergency phone, explained Maenner.
In most situations, German police do not trace your GPS signal if you call them from your cell phone. While you are not required to notify the Polizei in all circumstances, it is in your best interest to do so, said Maenner. If you bump into a vehicle, and the owner is not present, you must notify the police under all circumstances — even if damages are not visible. If you leave the accident site without doing so, it is considered a hit-and- run.
“If you are not sure what do or just have a question, don’t hesitate to call us (German Polizei). We will tell you what needs to be done,” said Manner. “
Information for your insurance
At the accident site, the German Polizei or MPs will help you obtain all necessary information required for an insurance claim. The Police will provide their names and precinct information. Information required includes full name of everyone involved, vehicle type and make, accident type, accident place and time, license plate numbers and insurance information.
If you are unable to obtain the insurance information from everyone involved, however, your insurance can do it through the license plate number, explained Maenner. He further explained that the police do not conduct full investigations for smaller accidents without injuries.
“If you do need photos for your insurance you need to take them yourself. Take photos of all sides and all cars involved, even if you do not see any damages,” recommended Maenner.