Accidents happen to all types of drivers – good, bad, young, old, experienced and inexperienced. Even a minor fender-bender can be nerve racking. As the surprise and shock sets in, it can be difficult to remember what steps to take next. What you do immediately following a car accident can make a big difference in protecting you and your passengers as well as assisting the other driver. Taking the right actions will help you provide accurate information to law enforcement, insurance company and the collision center.
Put together an emergency kit
Although no one wants to think about getting in an accident, a little forethought can save you time, money and maybe even someone’s life. Put together a safety kit to keep inside each of your vehicles. Include medical, automotive and practical supplies as well as pertinent documentation you’ll need should you or another driver ever get in an accident. If there are other drivers in your family, let them know about the kit. Less-experienced drivers tend to panic after an accident. Knowing there are supplies readily available will allow them peace of mind in a crisis.
Even a minor fender-bender can cause damage. Although it may look like no one is medically injured, some wounds and problems are not visible to the naked eye. Do not state you are unharmed until an evaluation has been complete by medical personnel. The same holds true for your automobile. Some auto body damage that can only be detected by a certified technician. Have your car thoroughly checked out after an accident.
If you have been involved in an accident and there are no serious injuries either for you or the other driver, move the cars involved to the side of the road so as to not block traffic. Keep cars a safe distance from moving traffic and always exit your vehicle on the side farthest from other moving vehicles. If there are no injuries and damages of the accident appear to be less than $1000, police may not come to the scene. If this is the case, a dispatcher will instruct you where to file an accident report.
If your car can’t be moved or someone in the car has sustained serious injuries, call 911 immediately. Keep the car and the injured person put until medical assistance or law enforcement has arrived. Moving an injured person may cause more harm, so if possible don’t move the injured party. To help keep traffic a safe distance from you and your automobile, put cones, triangles or flares around your vehicle and remember to put your hazard lights on.
Collect information, documentation
It is not necessary to find someone responsible for the accident. It is also best to not admit fault or try to elicit fault. What is important, however, is to collect information for insurance companies, law enforcement and for filling an accident report. Follow the list below to collect documentation from involved drivers, witnesses and law enforcement. To avoid dispute later, don’t discuss the accident with the other party beyond collecting relevant information.
If there are witnesses, try to get their contact information and don’t discuss the accident with them. Let the police and insurance company do that. Their information may be valuable should there be a dispute later on.
A picture says a thousand words. Use a camera (disposable, digital or mobile) to take pictures of the accident. Show all angles of the accident – not just close ups of the damage or lack of visible damage to the vehicles.
Law enforcement will ask you questions regarding the accident. Stay calm and answer the questions. Remember that you don’t need to prove the other person is at fault. You only need to explain what happened and what you did. If you’ve taken pictures at the scene let the officer know and share any contact information you’ve gathered from witnesses. The officer will give you an accident claim number. Save this number for safe keeping.
Finally, call your insurance company to report the accident as soon as possible. When you talk to the insurance agent or representative they will likely want some information regarding the accident. The agent will discuss getting your car repaired and will likely ask many of the same questions as the police officer, so keep your documentation form accessible.
When it comes to getting your car repaired, by law an insurance company cannot force you to use its preferred repair shop. If you would like a certain collision shop to work on your car don’t be afraid to speak up. You can expect either yours or the other party’s insurance adjuster to examine your car and give you an estimate. You may need to make arrangements for a rental car while yours is being worked on, especially if one is not covered by insurance. When it comes to working with a repair shop, don’t settle for shabby repair work. Some shops will use generic or used replacement parts, if this is not okay with you demand new parts from the vehicle manufacturer.
You may want to print out the following list to keep in your car. Should you find yourself in an accident, this will help ensure that you don’t miss any important steps.
Before you find yourself in an accident
Put together a safety kit for each of your vehicles. Don’t rely on your memory to store important information about the accident.
Each kit you should include:
- A camera for taking picture of the damage. Make sure the camera has a flash so that you can take pictures in the dark, if the accident occurs in the evening or in bad weather.
- Paper and pen for notes and exchanging information with the other driver.
- A list of pertinent people to contact and their phone numbers. This includes medical personnel, family, friends, insurance agent and company, hospital preference and local law enforcement.
- Written documentation of the following: Insurance card (including policy number, what number to call to report the accident, the make, model and year of the car, VIN number and license plate number.
- Written documentation of updated medical conditions, medications and allergies for you and your family members (since you don’t know who will be in the car at the time of an accident).
- A basic first aid kit. Include other items in the kit such as flashlights, thermal blankets, cones or warning triangles, fire extinguisher, tool kit and bottled water. Also consider including a couple pairs of work gloves, extra batteries and some nonperishable food.
- Documentation of what your policy covers so that the driver can make the necessary arrangement following an accident. Rental car? Cost of towing?
After an accident, gather information and documentation
- Collect the following from each driver involved:
- Driver’s name, address, daytime/evening/mobile phone numbers, and email address
- Driver license numbers
- Insurance company and phone number
- Insurance policy number
- Vehicle make, model, color, year
- License plate number
- Name of registered owner, their address, daytime/evening/mobile phone numbers, and email address
- Name, address, daytime/evening/mobile phone numbers, and email address
- Location of the accident
- Date and time of accident
- Cross streets of the accident
- Direction you were traveling
- Describe how the accident happened
- Damage to your vehicle
- Damage to other vehicle
- Police officer name and phone numbers
- Police officer badge number
- Accident report number