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What to Do After a Car Accident

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), there were5.5 million police-reported motor vehicle accidents in the United States in 2009, of which twenty-eight percent (1.52 million) resulted in an injury. Statistics suggest that all of us will experience at least one fender-bender, or more serious collision, in our lifetime. If not us, possibly our teenage children, or other loved ones. Knowing what to do immediately following a car accident can help prevent further chance of serious physical injury and avoid potentially serious financial repercussions.

Keep an Emergency Kit on Hand

One of the most important things you can do is to always be prepared. You should keep an emergency kit in your car’s glove compartment, containing some essential items:

  • Basic first aid items like bandages, medical tape, and gauze
  • Information about any specific medical conditions, such as allergies or heart issues, and any other health concerns that would require special attention
  • List of important phone numbers, such as the fire and police department
  • Pen and paper to take notes
  • Disposable camera for obtaining photos

If you don’t want to create your own emergency kit, there are a variety of pre-assembled kits available on-line for less than $20. Lastly, keep a set of cones, flares, or warning triangles in the trunk of your vehicle.

Immediately Stop and Assess Injuries and Damage

After an accident, if your car is not seriously damaged, immediately put your hazard lights on and move it to the side of the road to avoid oncoming traffic. If it is safe, put flares or cones by the car to alert other drivers. If your vehicle is inoperable, in the middle of the road, or at a highly-traveled intersection, you and your passengers should stay in the car with your seatbelts on until help arrives.

Whether you are the one responsible for causing the accident or not at fault, neither driver should leave the scene of the accident until you’ve assessed the vehicle damage and checked for any possible personal injuries. Not all injuries are readily apparent, so if anyone is not feeling normal, call 911 for medical assistance. If there is no personal injury to anyone and the cars are in safe, operable condition, the police may not respond to the scene. Laws vary from state to state, so be sure to know what applies in your state.

Call Police if Necessary

The police need to be notified if it is a ‘hit and run’ incident or serious crash. If you want your insurance company to cover the damage, a report needs to be filed with the police, whether they respond to the scene of the accident or not. Otherwise, when determining if the authorities need to be contacted, consider the following:

  • Does anyone have serious injuries?
  • Is the accident blocking traffic?
  • Did the crash cause debris to be left in the road?

If the answer to any of these questions is “yes,” then you should call 911.

If it is a minor traffic episode, the police do not need to be called, but you do need to file an accident report. The forms are available at police stations or your Department of Motor Vehicles web site and will contain instructions on how to fill them out and submit them. A police report will assist your insurance company and help the claims process go faster.

Take Photos of the Accident Scene if Possible

If you have a camera available or a cell phone with a camera, take pictures of the scene at different angles to provide evidence, if needed in court. Furthermore, the photos will give an overview of the accident, which can help you make a solid case for an insurance company claims adjuster assessing the cause of the collision.

Take Notes and Exchange Information 

Always keep your vehicle registration and insurance information readily accessible. You will need to provide this to the police if they respond, and you should provide your insurance company information to the other party involved. Both parties’ insurance companies will require the following information from the accident:

  • Name of persons involved
  • Phone numbers and addresses of those involved in the accident and any witnesses
  • Both drivers license numbers
  • The other vehicle’s license plate number
  • Description of both cars, consisting of the make, model, color, and year  

Write all of this down and have all parties involved sign the paper to validate the evidence.

Whether it is a fender-bender or a very serious accident, everyone involved must share their information. Do not leave the scene of the accident without it. This documentation will protect you and provide your insurance company with the appropriate information. It is also a good idea to write down exactly what you remember happening while it is still fresh in your mind.

Don’t Admit Fault

A car accident can be traumatic and the first inclination for many people is to get out and start apologizing, but you should be very careful about taking responsibility for causing the accident. While you should not lie, you should leave the accident investigation up to the insurance companies or police officers. Admitting fault can put you in a difficult situation when it comes time to pay the claim or if it ends up in court. 

Call Your Insurance Company and File a Report

Regardless of filing a claim or not, contact your insurance company with all the details you collected about the accident. If it is a minor accident, you and the other driver may ultimately decide to resolve the problem without involving insurance company claims. But, be careful, as you never know whether the other driver involved in the crash will change his or her mind about what happened. Sometimes individuals experience injuries that weren’t evident immediately after the accident. The result could be that you or your insurance company may have to pay a settlement or are brought into a lawsuit. Protect yourself and make it clear what your version of the accident is in addition to providing the necessary documentation.   

Check to see if you need to report the accident to your Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to avoid potential fines or risk a license suspension. Laws vary by state. Some DMVs require you to notify them of accidents over a certain dollar amount of damage or if there was any personal injury to any parties involved.

A car accident can be a traumatic experience and can take a toll on you emotionally, physically, and financially. Being prepared and knowing what to do will help you get through this difficult time quickly and painlessly. 

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