You might still be in a state of shock after being in a car accident. But you need to pull yourself together and do these 9 things to avoid problems later on.
There are on average six million car accidents in the United States annually, and approximately three million Americans are injured in those car accidents. This means that the average American has a one in 100 chance of being in a car accident every year. This also means that there are millions of car insurance claims happening annually.
The number of variables that could change your life when you have a car accident may lead you to panic and increase your stress response in an accident.
Keep this handy list of steps to take after an accident. It will help you keep calm and carry on, and your car insurance claim will go smoothly.
Step 1: Tend to People First
If you don’t know what to do after a car accident, the first and most important thing to do is to ensure that all participants in all vehicles are safe or check for injuries. Check the participants in your vehicle first, and tend to the other vehicle second. Safety first!
If there are injuries, call 911 immediately to get medical attention. Pull your vehicles to the side of the road if you are possible, or to the nearest safest location. If there are serious injuries, follow the instructions of the 911 operator while waiting for help.
Step 2: Stay Just a Little Bit Longer
It’s a human response to want to flee a situation as stressful and serious as a car collision, but it’s also illegal.
The most likely people to flee the scene of an accident are those without insurance. The Insurance Research Council reports that approximately one in eight drivers were uninsured in 2015, but that won’t be you.
Fight any panic response to leave, and stay to document the unfolding situation until the police arrive. If you go to the other vehicle in the accident and can’t find the owner, take down the information of their car, but also leave your information with them.
Always tend to your vehicle and your situation first, for legal purposes but also for medical and insurance reasons.
Stay until official help arrives and you receive further instructions from officials. Sometimes your own car insurance will cover uninsured motorists. The nationwide uninsured rate reportedly rose from 12.3 percent to 13 percent in 2015.
That means that if you are in one of the six million annual car accidents, the chances of you dealing with an uninsured motorist could be 13 percent or higher. Worry about that later.
Step 3: Protect the Scene
After you have checked for injuries and called for help, protect the scene. You should only be about five minutes into the actual collision aftermath at this point. Pull your vehicle to a place of safety if possible, and begin securing the scene. Put your hazard lights on if you can.
This is one of those days that will remind you why having a safety kit in your car is a good idea. Cat litter is a good solvent to use if there is any liquid spillage such as coolant or in the winter. These summer driving guidelines will help if you are in an accident while on vacation or traveling through the spring or summer months.
Flares can be used to surround the vehicles and alert oncoming traffic before the police arrive. Use your flashlight if necessary.
Step 4: Protect Your Rights
At this point, you want to continue keeping calm and put your rational hat on. It’s time to start thinking about the legal side of this. The sooner you start thinking about protecting your rights, the better.
If you are involved in a truck driving accident this is even more important, and The Idaho Advocates will offer a free consultation. It’s never too early to call your attorney. Do so after you have documented the scene, but you need to start thinking about this early and acting in a way that reflects this.
Say nothing, basically, or as little as possible to the other driver. Admit no fault whatsoever. Ask the other driver if they are okay or have injuries if they are still on the scene.
The people you want to discuss this at length with are officials, starting with your attorney, the police, and your insurance company.
Step 5: Exchange Information
One of the first and most well-known steps to take after a car accident is the exchange of information. After you have secured the safety of all parties and/or called for help, it’s time to get the information from the other driver.
This includes their full name and contact information, their insurance information including their policy number, and their vehicle information. Get as much about the car as you can, including make and model, color, and license plate.
VIN numbers are helpful to obtain if possible as well. You never want to just assume the license plate will be enough, as insurance companies go by VINs more than they go by license plates. You don’t even know if that license plate on the other vehicle is supposed to be there.
Get the plate number, but also ask the owner for the VIN, and tell them it is because you know your car accident insurance company is going to need it.
Step 6: Start Documenting
You may have already started documenting the scene and the accident, but in many cases, those just involved in a collision are not thinking clearly enough to get everything. Then they find themselves in a conversation with their lawyer, police, or insurance company, and are unable to answer the most basic questions of the collision due to their stress response.
That’s okay, and that’s called being human. As soon as you can, take as many notes as possible about the collision. Take pictures when necessary, but take your notes first. Use only facts, not emotional words.
Document everything about the accident, what you were doing when it happened, the address or location, your traveling direction, and the traveling direction of the other vehicle. You can use the talk to text function on your phone to help you with this, as your recall may be sketchy due to your heightened stress response.
Include notes on the weather, the traffic lights, pedestrians, everything. Get names of witnesses if possible, and eventually, you will want to get the names and badge numbers of any officers you are dealing with.
You are going to be telling this story to the police, the insurance, and your attorney, and you want all of those versions to be the same, and comprehensive of the facts at hand.
Step 7: Call the Police
If you are just in a fender bender with little damage or injuries, often times you won’t have to call the police. Many drivers in a car accident may try and convince you that calling the police isn’t necessary.
It’s never a bad idea to call them. The worst thing that can happen is they come and assess little damage and tell you it wasn’t necessary, but they will take a report on the matter anyway.
Whether or not you called the police is likely to be one of the first questions your attorney and insurance company will ask. You’re never going to get in trouble for calling them.
Step 8: Report to the DMV
Whether or not you are legally required to report your car accident to the DMV will vary by state, but it’s one of the best steps to take after a car accident. You can do it after the scene is cleared, or even the next day.
Specifics will vary by state, but generally speaking, if there is damage over $1,000, or an injury or fatality, the DMV needs to know. Don’t wait to find out after the fact you did something wrong by not reporting.
In Wisconsin for example, if there is damage as little as $200 you are required by law to report. Don’t go by an urban “consensus” that the car needs to be totaled before you report the accident.
Ask the police if they have a form for that, and in some states, the police will do it for you. It will be an important part of your insurance claim, your driving record, and even your future insurance rates. You never want to be the person that didn’t report.
Step 9: Notify Your Insurer
Calling your insurance company is also one of the most well-known steps to take after a car accident.
And since you have kept calm and carried on to follow all of the above steps, you will have everything they need to begin the claims process. But having an accident is a stressful situation.
Putting your situation in the hands of higher powers also helps to relieve the burden. Your insurance company will tell you what to do next.
When in Doubt Seek Legal Help
Generally what happens after a car accident is a human freak out. From legal matters to insurance issues to human injuries that could change a life forever, there is a lot to worry about.
Do everything you can to manage your stress and stay rational through the process. Having legal representation and handing it over to the insurance company are two things that help to take a lot of the weight off your shoulders.
But before you are able to do that, memorize what steps to take after a car accident by using this handy list. With six million car accidents happening, every year in America spread the word and make sure that your loved ones have this list too!