A car accident, whether it's a serious crash or a minor fender bender, can be terribly upsetting. Knowing how to handle this kind of situation can take some of the stress out of the event, allowing you to stay calm and focus on what's important.
Immediately After the Crash
Right after the crash, your first priority is assuring your safety and the safety of all the people involved. According to Cars.com, assessing injuries and preserving safety take precedence over insurance concerns and property damage.
Check for Injured People in Your Vehicle
Assess whether you or anyone in your car is injured. If anyone in your vehicle is hurt, call 911 right away. You can't be sure how serious the injuries are, so it's better to err on the side of caution. If anyone is unconscious or appears to have a neck, head, or back injury, do not move that person.
Look for Injured People in Other Vehicles
Do other drivers and passengers appear to be hurt? If you must leave your vehicle to assess the condition of other people, do so with caution. If others appear to be injured, call 911 immediately.
Make Sure Your Surroundings Are Safe
If everyone is okay or if you've already called 911, take a look at your surroundings. Is your vehicle safe in its current position? If your car is in the middle of traffic or is in another dangerous location, try to move to a safer place nearby.
Turn on Your Hazard Lights
Whether or not you were able to move your car out of traffic, turn on your hazard lights to make your vehicle more visible to other drivers. These lights will also help alert emergency personnel to your situation.
Stay at the Accident Site
Whether or not you need to move your car or exit the vehicle, it's essential that you stay at the site of the accident until everything has been sorted out. According to FindLaw, leaving the scene before making sure everyone is okay and exchanging information can make you a hit-and-run driver.
Once you know that everyone is okay and that help is on the way for injured people, you can begin to handle some of the other issues involved.
Call the Police
According to State Farm Insurance, you should always call the police after an accident, no matter how minor. The police may or may not choose to come to the scene, but calling them helps to document what has happened. In a more serious accident, the police can facilitate other emergency services and ensure your safety. They can also help you find a tow truck and deal with your vehicle.
The police will ask you questions about the accident. Try to remain calm and answer to the best of your ability. If the police come to the scene and file a report, record the following information:
- Police officer name and badge number
- Police report number
- Phone number you can call to discuss the incident or request a copy of the report when it is filed
If everyone is in a condition for talking, you should exchange your information with the other driver. No matter who you believe is at fault, be polite and calm when dealing with other drivers. Jot down the following information on a scrap of paper and encourage the other driver to do the same:
- Full name
- Phone number
- Date of birth
- Driver's license number
- Car make and model
- Car license plate number
- Insurance company and policy number
Note that the driver of the vehicle may be different than the owner. If that's the case, record information for both the driver and the owner.
Take Photos of the Accident
If your phone has a camera, use it to take photos of the accident scene. Try to get the following images if possible:
- Any damage sustained by your car or truck
- Condition of the other driver's vehicle
- Location of the accident from all perspectives, including a photo of the intersection or specific spot the incident occurred
- Marks on the road
Make Notes of Your Impressions
You should also write down as much as you can about the situation surrounding the accident. Include the following:
- Date and time of day
- Weather and road conditions
- Location of the incident
- Estimated speed of all cars involved
- Names and phone numbers of witnesses
- Injuries sustained by people involved
- Damage apparent on any car involved or on nearby property
- Mental condition of other drivers
Do Not Admit Fault or Apologize
According to All About Car Accidents by NOLO, you should never admit to the other driver that an accident was your fault, and you shouldn't apologize either. No matter how obvious the situation may seem to you at the time, you may not be thinking clearly. You may also be missing important information about the other driver, road conditions, and various contributing factors.
When talking to the other driver, limit your conversation to assessing whether anyone is injured and exchanging information. If the other driver tries to blame you for the incident, simply tell them you are waiting for the police to arrive and sort it out.
Call Loved Ones
When you have a moment to yourself, take that opportunity to call your loved ones. Tell them about the situation and let them know the condition of everyone involved. If you need help or a ride, ask for it.
After You Leave the Scene
After you've spoken to the police and documented the incident, you'll still have a few tasks to take care of. These things aren't as urgent, but they are still very important.
Call Your Insurance Company
According to the Insurance Information Institute, you should inform your insurance company as soon as possible after the accident, even if it seems to be minor. Your insurance company's phone number will be on the insurance card you carry in your vehicle. Allow the representative to walk you through the process and expect a call from the insurance claims adjuster. You'll need to provide all the information you gathered. Even if you don't plan to make a claim, it's important to inform your insurance in case the other party makes a claim against you.
Whether or not your insurance premiums will increase depends on whether you were at fault for the accident, whether you've had accidents in the past, and whether anyone makes a claim. Each insurance company is different, but you can ask your claims adjuster whether your premiums will be affected.
Report the Accident to the State if Necessary
Some states require that you report all accidents to the Department of Motor Vehicles or another agency. Ask the police officer at the scene about your state's policy if you are unsure. Then contact the appropriate agency after the accident.
Get Your Car Fixed
If your car was damaged in the accident and you have collision coverage on your insurance, your claims adjuster will help you through the process of finding an approved repair shop. In many cases, this will involve having an inspector take a look at the damage and assess how much the insurance company is willing to pay. Once you have the estimate from the insurance company, compare this number to the estimated collision repair costs from the approved repair shop or from your favorite auto body shop. If there is a difference in the amounts, NOLO reports that the body shop and the insurance company can usually work that out without your involvement.
Take Care of Your Mental Health
A car accident can be a traumatic event mentally as well as physically. If you are dealing with anxiety, guilt, depression, or other negative feelings from the incident, it may help to talk to someone. Consider calling a therapist if you find that your emotions are interfering with your daily life.
Learn the Process to Reduce Stress
Car accidents are stressful, no matter how serious they are. You can put your mind at ease if you take some time to learn the process for these events. That way, you won't forget anything important.