Being in a collision is a traumatic experience, regardless of the severity, and it can be hard to think straight afterward. To help you through this traumatic event, we’ve put together a step-by-step list of what to do after a car accident.
What To Do After A Car Accident?
- Make Sure You’re OK
- Get to Safety
- Call the police
- Make Contact With the Other Driver or Drivers – Do Not Admit Fault
- Get the Other Driver’s Contact Information
- Write or record your version of the crash
- File a police report
- Document the Scene
- Determine how you are going to leave the scene of the accident
- Go to a doctor as soon as possible
- Save and organize your paperwork
- Contact a Lawyer – They will handle all of your communication with the insurance companies
Let’s jump right in to our tips on what to do after a car accident.
1) What To Do After A Car Accident? Check if You’re OK.
Next, make sure you’re OK. If you’re driving with passengers, your first thoughts are probably going to be about their well-being. That’s OK — but know that you cannot help them without first helping yourself.
Think of it as the Airplane Mask Rule. Always put your mask on before assisting others with their mask, and always take a careful inventory of your injuries before you try to help others.
From head to toe, do a quick inventory on every body-part. Is my head injured? My neck? My shoulders? If you are injured, be very careful not to further injure yourself while getting out of the car. If you do not feel like you can either physically exit the vehicle, or feel unsafe doing so, stay in your car until paramedics or law enforcement arrive.
Call 911 immediately if anyone is seriously injured -whether that’s yourself, the other parties involved in the accident, or bystanders. If there are not life threatening injuries, you can either call 911 or your local police directly.
2) Get to Safety
- Turn on your emergency blinkers
- If you can, move your vehicle to the side of the road.
The first thing you should do immediately after a car accident is get to safety. Getting out of the way of traffic will protect you from any further damage to your health or your vehicle. The faster the traffic is going around you, the more urgent the need to move to the side.
If you cannot safely move your car or your car is unable to drive
- If you have emergency flares or reflective cones in your car as part of an accident preparedness kit, now is the time to use them. The flares or reflective cones serve as valuable visual aids to enable drivers to see your stopped car and give them enough time to avoid it.
3) Make Contact With the Other Driver or Drivers
First things first, you should be consciously and deliberately polite. You just got into a car accident — no matter whose fault or the severity of the accident, your adrenaline is flowing, emotions are running high, and your fight-or-flight response has probably kicked into gear. If you can anticipate how your body will react, you stand to have a better chance at keeping your cool and making sure everything progresses smoothly.
During the fight-or-flight response, adrenaline floods your body. Your heartbeat and breathing will quicken. The bottom line? Your mind might not be quite as calm as what you’re used to.
This adrenaline rush may also mask your injuries. Be careful and aware of your body as your adrenaline wears off.
Take some deep breaths and do another quick self-assessment before you make contact with the other driver. When you speak with the other driver see if they’re ok. If they hit your vehicle, it is okay to ask what happened, politely.
That brings us to a key issue: Do not admit fault! If the other driver asks you to admit fault, simply say, “Let’s have our insurance figure it out.” Or, if the police have been called, leave it up to the officers to determine. That’s all you have to say.
Things might seem urgent, and the need to get to the bottom of the accident might feel pressing. But there’s little to gain by hashing things out at the scene.
The last thing you want is your insurance company or the other driver’s insurance company using something you said after an accident – in the heat of the moment – as an excuse to deny your claim.
4) Get the Other Driver’s Contact Information
You’re going to want to collect some contact information from the driver of the other car. Here’s a quick list:
- Phone Number
- The make, model, year, and license plate number of the other car
- Insurance information, including policy number
Take photographs of this information so that you have it for later.
5) Write or record your version of the crash
Again, you’re going to have to fight your racing thoughts, increased adrenaline levels, and fight-or-flight response, all of which are going to make it harder to get the facts right in your head.
Think about every detail you can remember. What direction were you going? How fast? When did you first see the other vehicle?
Write down as many pertinent details as you can in a notebook or on your cell phone. You can also record a voice memo on your cell phone.
6) Call the police and file a police report
Reporting an accident to the police can be optional, depending on the state and the severity of the accident. For example, Arizona law requires that every motor vehicle accident be reported to the police. But even if your jurisdiction does not require it, filing a police report is always a good idea.
- A police report establishes baseline facts about the car accident
- Filing an insurance claim is easier when there’s a police report to reference
- The police will gather the necessary information for insurance, vehicles, and witnesses.
- If a tow truck is required to move away a vehicle, the police can arrange for that tow.
- If the other driver was at fault for the accident, the police can issue citations, check for any signs of impairment, and confirm that driver was using a suspended or revoked license.
- If you are involved in a hit and run collision, contacting the police can result in tracking down the at fault vehicle and their insurance.
Say you’re in a fender bender, and you were hit from behind by another vehicle. The at-fault driver might offer to pay you for the damages in cash, wishing to avoid insurance rate hikes that might come with being found at-fault in an accident.
You might be tempted to let the other guy to drive off.
But for the sake of accountability, you should insist on filing a report. That way, you have extra peace of mind that the other driver will cover their share of the costs.
Often, vehicle damage can look minor, and your adrenaline rush may mask your pain at the scene. Once the adrenaline wears off and pain sets in, you’ll need the insurance information for who caused your accident.
Once you take your vehicle to the repair shop and they start taking apart your vehicle, that $250.00 scratch can turn into thousands of dollars of unseen damage.
Having a police officer inspect the scene after a car accident will provide a degree of officiality for everyone involved. Filing an insurance claim will be easier when there’s a police report to reference.
Filing a report is a good idea and, like in Arizona, might even be legally required depending on your jurisdiction.
But that said, it’s not necessary to make a statement to the police.
Having a report simply will establish some baseline facts about what happened — the number of cars involved, the extent of the damage to the vehicles, the presence of any skid marks, etc.
You are required to give an officer the following information:
- Your name
- A copy of your registration
- A copy of your insurance
- Your driver’s license
Remember, do not admit fault.
Make sure you get the following information from the officer before he or she leaves:
- Their name
- Their badge number
- A copy of an information exchange form with the other driver’s information
7) Document the Scene
After a car accident, make sure to take pictures, including damage to your car and any other car or property damaged in the accident. Get photos from multiple angles and distances of all damage. Your insurance company and lawyer will want as many detailed photographs as necessary when they are evaluating your claim.
8) How Are You Going to Leave the Scene?
You have a few choices — if you’re seriously injured, you’ll need an ambulance to the hospital. If you’re not seriously injured, you can drive your car away from the scene or call a tow truck. The police officer will help you arrange a tow if necessary.
9) Go to a doctor as soon as possible
Not all auto injuries result in pain right away. Remember the fight-or-flight response from earlier? The adrenaline pumping through your veins after an accident can mask the pain you might feel from injuries. Other injuries might take a day or more after a car accident to appear.
Whiplash, for example, doesn’t always manifest right away. The Mayo Clinic says that whiplash symptoms can take up to 24 hours to show up, sometimes longer.
A medical professional knows what to look for and will do a thorough medical examination for all injuries, which is why you should always see a doctor immediately after being in a car accident.
Your doctor will also tell you if you need to be on the lookout for other symptoms. For example, whiplash symptoms, including neck pain and stiffness or headaches, might only appear after a few days.
The medical records and documentation of your injuries might prove vital should you end up filing a personal injury claim.
10) Save and organize your documentation
When you’re wondering what to do after a car accident, it’s important to remember to keep track of everything that happens.
Let’s recap what you’ve collected so far:
- The contact information of the other driver(s)
- The contact information of witnesses (if there were any)
- The pictures you took of the scene
- The police report
- The contact information of the police officer who wrote the report
Take all that information and put it somewhere safe.
If you don’t own a scanner, consider getting a free app that will turn your smartphone camera into a scanner. These apps work by using your camera to convert an image to a PDF and can send the file directly to popular Cloud storage solutions like Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive, or Dropbox.
Fossbytes recommends Clear Scanner CamScanner for Android, and PC Mag thinks that CamScanner’s iOS app or Evernote Scannable will get the trick done on your iPhone.
Keeping all of your claim information organized will make the next steps easier; whether you decide to hire a lawyer or file an insurance claim on your own (which you shouldn’t do! More on that next).
11) Contact a Lawyer
In many cases, you know what to do after a car accident. But this step may throw you off.
Most people will call their insurance company or the other driver’s insurance company right away.
This can be a HUGE mistake.
Your insurance company is not on your side after an accident. Their priority is always their bottom line. The other driver’s insurance company is by definition, working against you.
Their goal is get your claim against their insured settled as soon as possible for the least amount of money, regardless of your injuries or damages.
Most of the time it will be in your interest to contact an attorney. If the accident leaves you in pain, involves serious damage to any car, if multiple cars are involved, or if the other insurance company decides that you’re partially at-fault, it pays to have an attorney on your side.
What to do after a car accident when hiring a lawyer- Do your research and ask questions.
Attorneys.com details some great questions to ask a lawyer, including:
- How long have you practiced personal injury law?
- How many cases similar to mine have you represented?
- Do you foresee any issues with my case that I should be concerned about?
- What do I need to do to maximize my case value?
An attorney can also help you navigate legal pit traps that could otherwise catch you off-guard. They’ll take point on negotiating with the insurance company, relieving you of the stress of a high-stakes negotiating match. They are also experts in cases in your area. They will be able to assess your case compared to results from similar arbitrations and jury trials.
Insurance companies are very good at negotiating and do it daily as a large part of their job. Unless you’re a personal injury attorney, you’re probably not as experienced at wheeling and dealing as the person on the other end of the phone.
Attorneys, however, can counter the experience of the insurance adjusters and serve as a powerful ally to guide you through distressing and unfamiliar territory.
Having a lawyer can be the difference between a traumatic incident ruining your life and merely inconveniencing it. Don’t take chances on the former.
12) Your Personal Injury Lawyer Will Contact the Insurance Companies for You
It’s simple math. If it will cost the company more money to fight for your claim that it will for them to make a quick settlement, they will choose the quick settlement every time. They will always, always look for the cheapest way out, even if it costs YOU more money.
Your insurance policy almost certainly requires you to contact them immediately after an accident. But make sure you have contacted an attorney first. There is zero upside to making a statement with your insurance company. If you’re asked to make a statement, simply forward them to your lawyer.
Expediency is key, The insurance company isn’t going to give you a dime before you go through the proper protocols. That means you need to report the accident as soon as you can in order to get the wheels of the claims process spinning. A lawyer will help ensure that process goes smoothly and will report on the details that your insurance company needs to process your claim.
Your insurance policy should kick in should the other party’s insurance not immediately cover your property damage claim. If the at-fault party’s insurance doesn’t immediately pay up, your collision insurance might cover the cost of repairing your vehicle. It would then fall to your insurance company to collect money from the at-fault party.
You have to carry collision coverage on your vehicle for your insurance to pay for your repairs, and have rental coverage in order to get a rental vehicle. If you only have comprehensive coverage, you will not be covered for these things. This comes in handy if liability is pending, or there is a dispute and only a portion of liability is accepted.
The same goes for any costs associated with medical care, towing, or rental cars. And if the driver who hit you doesn’t have insurance, forget about it. You’d better hope your uninsured motorist coverage covers all your medical expenses and damages, or you’ll have to sue the driver personally to attempt to recovery for your damages. And if they aren’t carrying car insurance, what are the chances that they’ll have the money to cover any sort of monetary judgment?
That’s why the most important step in what to do after a car accident is to contact an attorney. It’s good to have someone on your side.