There’s no doubt that being involved in a car accident is a frightening experience. It’s natural to feel panicked and confused, or even angry at first.
However, if you should find yourself in this situation, there are nine essential steps that you should complete in order to handle it correctly. Jot them down on a piece of paper that you keep in the glove box of your car. It’ll be a helpful “cheat sheet” to guide you through this stressful situation.
Step 1: Stay calm and get safe.
If your car is drivable, carefully maneuver it to the side of the road so you can get out of the way of oncoming traffic. If your car cannot be driven, and you are not seriously injured, exit the vehicle and move to a safe spot away from oncoming traffic. This is of particular importance if the accident occurs on a busy highway.
If the accident occurs at night, set out road flares to alert oncoming drivers. However, be mindful that road flares can spark fires from leaking fuel or other fluids. Many electronic road flares are available now which are becoming the safer alternative.
Be sure to protect the scene if there are any injured people trapped in a vehicle or on the roadway. Position your vehicle to protect them if possible, and attempt to alert traffic from a safe location.
Even if there is no fire, try to obtain fire extinguishers from your own vehicle or anyone passing by. Having a fire extinguisher and not needing it is perfectly fine, but needing one and not having it is a sure way to cause serious injuries or worse.
Step 2: Don’t apologize after a traffic accident.
Whether it’s your fault or not, don’t apologize. This implies guilt, and it can be used against you in a court case. There may be other factors that contributed to the accident that you’re not aware of, so resist the urge to say, “I’m sorry.”
Many of us apologize just to be kind, especially after a scary situation like a traffic accident. Even if it was your fault, you have the right to a defense and to protect your own interests. Stay quiet and let your insurance company work out the rest. That’s what you pay them for.
Step 3: Contact the authorities.
Call 9-1-1 as soon as possible, or inform someone close by to call 9-1-1. Make sure you know where you are located such as cross streets or mile marker posts. The dispatcher will also want to know about any injuries, the types of vehicles involved, and other time-sensitive information.
The police will write up a report and help maneuver traffic safely around the accident. Be sure to get a copy of the report or the report number to give to your insurance agent and/or attorney. Also point out any witnesses who may be able to help you.
As soon as you’re able, call your auto insurance company and notify them you’ve been in an accident. They will help guide you on what to do.
Step 4: Get witnesses to stick around after the accident.
Look around. Were there people walking nearby who saw the accident? Did any good Samaritans pull over to see if you needed help? Be sure to point these individuals out to the police so their statements can be taken. If the case goes to court, their statements can help support your claim.
If you’re able to, talk to the witnesses and get them to stick around until the police arrive. People are busy, and once they see there are no injuries they may be anxious to get on with their day. But having their statements can really help you out if you weren’t at fault.
Step 5: Provide contact information.
The police and the other driver(s) involved in the accident will need your name and insurance information. You should always keep an insurance card in your wallet and in your glove box. Jot down your name, insurance company, and policy number on a piece of paper. You do not need to provide your home address or phone number since it should be your insurance company, not you, who handles settling the claim from here on out. Make sure you get the other drivers’ names and insurance information, too. The police can facilitate the transfer of information if necessary.
Step 6: Record facts as soon as you can after the accident.
Jot down everything you can remember about the incident. Write down the date, time, weather conditions, location, and how the accident occurred. It’s best to do this as soon as possible while the details are still fresh in your mind.
There are many phone apps available that will help you document any accident scene. If you don’t have the app, take as many pictures and videos as you can. In the videos, relay any pertinent information via the audio. The more pictures and videos, the better.
Step 7: Go to the hospital – even if you feel “okay.”
Injuries often present themselves several hours after the accident has occurred. By then your body has relaxed and the adrenaline has gone, allowing you to feel the full extent of your injuries. It is important to be evaluated by a doctor so you can receive the medical treatment you need, and also to ensure that there is a record of your injuries.
Make sure you pay attention to aches and pains in your body even months after the accident. Many injuries will not present themselves for a while.
Step 8: Contact your insurance company as soon as you can after an accident
The number for your insurance company will be printed on your insurance card. Once you have a police report and have been evaluated by a doctor, contact your insurance company to report the incident. Your agent will request the police report number and the other driver(s) insurance information. Your agent will also help you make arrangements to have your car photographed, so the damage can be recorded. In addition, your agent will give you the name of your insurance company’s preferred mechanic or body shop to take your car for repairs.
Step 9: Contact an attorney if any injuries are involved.
In most cases, an attorney won’t need to get involved. If, however, the case needs to go to court, your attorney will help plead the case on your behalf and ensure that you receive adequate compensation for the damage. He or she will also help make sure that you have all the information and documented evidence needed.
If you have an attorney on retainer, contact them as soon as possible. This is especially true after an injury, whether it is you that is injured or another party. Even if the injuries seem minor, that can change in the days or weeks to come. Protect yourself!