What to Do After a Car Accident A car accident can be a very anxiety-ridden experience. Stay calm and use these tips to protect yourself and make the right decisions. BY JULIE ALVIN
If you're in an accident, take a deep breath and move your car to a safe spot off the road.
“ If it is safe to do so, take pictures of vehicles involved, the scene, driver's license and license plate—anything that will help your insurance company put the pieces together.”
Between hurried drivers, icy winter roads and the texting-while-driving epidemic, a car collision could happen in your future. How you respond in the immediate and subsequent days could not just keep you safe, but save you time, money and stress. Now, we're hoping you never have to worry about this, but if a car crash happens stay calm and follow these steps.
Get your car off the road. If your car is drivable, move it immediately to a safe location, but don't leave the scene of the accident. "The greatest hazard after an accident is other vehicles still passing by on the roadway," says Lt. Keith Wilson of the Michigan State Police. If your car is not drivable, put your hazard lights on and try to protect yourself as well as possible, either staying in the vehicle with seatbelts fastened or, if you can exit safely, moving to a safe place away from the vehicle.
Call 911. If anyone is injured, call 911 immediately for medical assistance. Even if there is just property damage, you should still call police, but they may have a delayed response. A dispatcher will be able to give an idea of response time, Wilson says. The attending officer will file a police report. Be detailed and honest with the officer, but do not admit fault. "Someone may admit fault when the wreck wasn't their fault at all, due to traffic laws or rules. There are many factors involved in a wreck," says Kip Diggs, a spokesman for State Farm Insurance.
Gather information. Exchange names and contact information with the driver of the other vehicle and any passengers. Write down the name of the insurance carrier and policy number and the make and model of the cars involved. Take pictures if you can. "Many phones nowadays have cameras. It's not the chore it might have been at one time to get pictures at an accident scene," Diggs says. "If it is safe to do so, take pictures of vehicles involved, the scene, driver's license and license plate—anything that will help your insurance company put the pieces together." Get names and phone numbers of any witnesses and police officers present, plus the police-report number.
Take care of your car. Once the police report is filed and you are free to leave the scene, drive your car home or to the body shop (only if it is in driving condition—all safety equipment must be intact). If a car is not drivable, the police can call a tow truck, Wilson says.
Call your insurance carrier. "We appreciate that you call and report the accident as soon after the incident as possible," says Diggs. "Not when you are on the scene necessarily, but once you finish with the direct handling of the event." Provide the claims representative with all information gathered on the scene and speak to him or her about your next steps.
Lastly, familiarize yourself with your insurance coverage now so there are no surprises should a car accident occur. Stay safe.
Julie Alvin is an associate editor at shopautoweek.com. Julie writes and reports from the perspective of the average consumer rather than the car fanatic. She translates complicated car lingo into layman’s terms, hosts Autoweek TV and attends a driving school for Autoweek. Follow her on Twitter @juliealvin.