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What to Do if You’re in a Car Accident

Published January 11, 2024
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Car Accident? Here is what to do.

This article has been reviewed by licensed insurance industry expert Moshe Fishman on January 11, 2024.

Did you know that the average driver will be in three to four automobile accidents during their lifetime? Even careful drivers get into car accidents, and even minor fender benders can be stressful and costly. Many drivers aren’t sure what they’re supposed to do after an accident. Knowing what you should do before you ever get in an accident will help alleviate the stress, chaos, and confusion that can occur immediately after. Read this, and you won't find yourself on the side of the road, wondering what to do.

What this article covers: 

  • How to be prepared by understanding what you should do if you get into an accident.
  • The best steps to follow when you are involved in an auto accident.
  • Information you should collect when exchanging information with the other driver.
  • Whether you should file a claim with your insurance company if you were at fault.

What you should know:

  • Call 911, an emergency call, immediately following an accident if the other driver is hostile or aggressive.
  • Documenting the accident scene with pictures will help determine who was at fault.
  • If the accident was your fault, you do not have to file a claim with your insurance company.
  • You should seek medical attention even if your injuries seem minor.

Safety First

Safety first should take precedence over anything else. Take note of the circumstances and evaluate your safety. Is your vehicle in an area of heavy traffic, or in a condition that could result in additional damage or injury? For example, if you are stuck on the road, can you warn other drivers away, with your hazard lights or with a set of warning triangles? Do you smell smoke? 

Take a deep breath, try to keep calm, and assess your situation. Check yourself and your vehicle’s occupants for injuries. If it’s safe to remain in your vehicle and if anyone is experiencing neck, back, or abdominal pain, they shouldn’t be moved. Moving someone after an accident can exacerbate their injuries and first responders and paramedics are better equipped to assess the extent of someone’s injuries.

If no one is seriously injured, the accident is a minor one, and your vehicle is still operational, turn on your hazard lights and move it to a secure location that doesn’t block traffic. If another driver is involved, indicate to the other driver your intent to move your vehicle to a safe location. If you’re on the highway, move your car onto the shoulder. Once all vehicles are moved to a safe location, check if the other driver or their vehicle’s occupants are injured. 

Call the Police

Knowing whether to call the police after an accident can be difficult to determine. If the accident occurred after a road rage incident or the other driver is aggressive and hostile, dial 911 immediately. For minor accidents, having a police report can make the claims process easier, especially if there’s a dispute about who’s at fault. In some states, calling the police after an accident is required. 

If the other driver is insistent about not calling the police, this could be a red flag that they don’t have insurance or were driving under the influence. If you’re not sure whether to call the police, it’s better to be safe than sorry and involve the authorities. For your car insurance company, it is likely you will need a copy of the police incident report. Don’t assume that someone else has called 911 operators.

Exchange Information

When you approach the other driver, it’s important to remember that you should never admit guilt in an accident, even if you think it was your fault. Your goal is to exchange the pertinent information in a neutral manner. Don’t give any information about possible injuries or provide details about how much insurance you have. 

It’s also important to assess if there are any witnesses who weren’t involved in the accident as their testimony could come in handy if there’s a dispute about who’s at fault. Jot down the license plate numbers of anyone who’s at the scene in case they leave before you can get their contact information.

You should get the following information after an accident: 

  • Full name, phone number, and license plate number of the other driver
  • Insurance company and policy number of the other driver
  • Full name and phone number of any witnesses to the accident
  • Full name and badge number of any police officers who arrive on scene
  • Location of the accident
  • Make, model, and color of the vehicles involved

Document the Scene

Documenting the details of the accident and taking pictures of the scene will come in handy. If you don’t have pen and paper, you can use the voice memo function on your phone to record your account of the accident. 

  • Take pictures of all vehicles from multiple angles. If the vehicles haven’t been moved, take pictures of the entire scene including skid marks, debris, and the vehicles’ locations in the street or intersection. This could help determine who’s at fault. 
  • Provide scale by holding up a pen or a key to dents or scrapes on vehicles when photographing the damage. This may guard against shady drivers or repair shops who exacerbate the damage to increase the claim amount. 
  • Take pictures from multiple distances if it’s safe to do so. It might be helpful to have pictures from five to ten feet away as well as close-ups.
  • Take pictures of the vehicle’s interior including deployed air bags and shattered windshields.
  • Take pictures of injuries of anyone involved in the accident. Ask permission if it’s okay to snap a pic of the other driver’s visible cuts, scrapes, or bruises. 
  • Take pictures of anything that will help you remember details and your ability to convey what happened.

Seek Medical Care

Even if you think you physically feel okay after an accident, you should get checked out at urgent care or make an appointment with your doctor. Sometimes accidents cause injuries where the symptoms don’t become readily apparent until several days have passed. Let the medical professionals determine the extent of your injuries. 

File a Report

Depending on what state you live in, you may need to file an accident report with the Department of Motor Vehicles, even if the police were called to the scene of the accident. Check with your state’s DMV to determine if an accident report must be filed where you live.

Here is a list of information that typically would be included in an accident report:

  • Insurance information that includes policy number and insurance company
  • All drivers’ full name, contact information, birthdate, and insurance information
  • Driver’s license numbers of all drivers
  • License plate numbers of all vehicles involved as well as witness vehicles
  • Date, time, and location of the accident
  • Relevant information regarding weather, road conditions, etc. 
  • Make and model of vehicles involved

Don’t Agree to “Work Things Out”

The other driver might offer compensation at the scene of the accident or soon after. They might ask you to work things out without getting the insurance companies involved. It’s never a good idea to agree to a deal with the other driver. 

Repairs to the vehicles and the medical bills that may come from injuries that aren’t readily apparent can add up quickly. Don’t agree to anything or sign anything from the other driver at the scene of an accident. Accidents are why you have auto insurance and it’s best to let your insurance company handle it.

Contact Your Insurance Company

Even if you won’t be filing a claim, you need to let your insurance company know about the accident. All auto insurance companies require that any accident must be reported by policyholders who are involved in even the most minor fender benders when there’s another party involved. Request forms from your agent, or find them online, on the insurer's website.

Decide if You’ll File a Claim

You aren’t required to file a claim with your insurance company if the accident was caused by you. Before deciding whether to file a claim, keep in mind that even minor accidents can cause a lot of damage, and those repair bills can add up quickly. A good rule to follow is to file a claim if the estimated repairs exceed your deductible. For example, if the damages to your vehicle will cost $1500 to repair and your deductible is $2000, filing a claim doesn’t necessarily make sense. 

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