Automobile accidents are all too common. Thousands happen each year for any number of reasons - faulty car parts, other drivers, and even not paying attention to the road. The results range from minor "fender-benders" with little property damage and no personal injuries to multi-car pile-ups with major property damage and deaths.
They may have life-changing consequences. If you drive a car, you should know what to do if you are involved in an accident.
Steps to Take after an Accident
It only takes seconds for an accident to happen. Afterwards, you need to act quickly to protect yourself and others involved.
Assess and Get Help
First steps after impact are:
- Put on your emergency flashers so other drivers will go around you
- Check to see if anyone in your car is injured, and if so, call for medical help
- Exit your vehicle if it's safe and you're physically able to do so
- Check to see if anyone in the other vehicle is injured, and if so, call for medical help
- Call the police. An officer will make a police report of the facts of the accident, which can be used in insurance investigations and lawsuits. The officer will also assist in exchanging information between you and the other driver, as well as routing traffic around the accident. The officer may also determine if anyone has been driving while intoxicated
- Take a picture of the scene if you have a camera. Some people keep a disposable camera in their car for this reason. You also may have a camera on your cell phone
- If you're able to safely move your vehicle, move it to the shoulder of the road
Records for Your Recovery
Complete and accurate records help you resolve your accident claims as quickly and smoothly as possible. Information you gather or preserve at the accident scene may help settle any legal issues that come up. Many insurance companies have smartphone apps to help you record your accident information. It could be wise to download one just in case.
Here's what you need to do:
- Exchange names, addresses, telephone numbers and insurance information with other drivers. This information is very important for filing a claim with your insurance company
- Get the names, addresses and telephone numbers of any witnesses so you know who to call if the accident needs to be investigated
- Don't discuss the accident with other drivers or witnesses. If you admit liability, this may be used against you later. You also don't want to start any arguments
- Mentally note, and, as soon as possible, write down the facts surrounding the accident, such as the time, date, location of the accident and weather conditions. Some cell or smartphones are also recording devices and are a good way to record anything you think is important
- If the police have been called, stay at the scene of the accident until the responding officer says you can leave
- Call your insurance agent and report the accident. Ask your agent about any time limits for filing a claim. If you plan on filing a claim, get the claims process started as soon as possible. Your insurance company will investigate the loss, take statements and inspect the damage to both vehicles in order to determine the merits of your claim
- Call your attorney if you are injured or the damages are extensive. The laws of each state may vary. Your attorney can explain the law to you and advise you of your legal rights and obligations. Your attorney can also help determine who was at fault and may help you get compensation for your property damage and personal injuries
Reporting an Accident to Insurance Companies
Sometimes, drivers don't want to report accidents to their insurance companies. You may be worried that your insurance rates will go up, so you plan on paying for the damages out of pocket. It's up to you. The other driver has the same option. And, just because the other driver opts to file a claim doesn't mean you have to file one with your insurance company.
It's best to talk to your insurance agent and to your lawyer, though. If the other driver changes his mind and files a claim with his insurance company, it may be too late to file a claim with your insurance company.