Accidents happen. And car accidents happen a lot — with more than 7 million crashes reported in the US in 2016, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics.
While car accidents are common, they are also unexpected, and they can have far-reaching consequences, including injuries and legal complications. Knowing what to do ahead of time can help you handle things well in what is almost always a stressful situation. Here are some steps to take when you are involved in a traffic accident.
Stop your car and move it to a safe spot
Legally, you are required to stop if you get in a car accident, even if there is no damage. If you are not injured and it is safe to move your car, move it to the safest position possible. If you can’t move it, turn on your hazard lights to warn other drivers. Make sure it is safe to get out of the car before you do so.
Check on other people
The well-being of everyone involved in the accident should be your first priority, after your own safety. Check on any other drivers, passengers or pedestrians who may have been involved in the accident. If anyone appears to be injured, call 911.
Call the police and/or file a DMV report
A police report can be crucial in dealing with your insurance or litigation in the aftermath of an accident. When the police arrive, let them do their work. You should cooperate fully, but avoid speculation, admitting fault or casting blame — it’s best to keep your conversation limited to the facts of what happened.
However, the police may not come to the scene, especially if no one is injured. In this case, you may still be required to file an accident report through the DMV, depending on your state.
Collecting information about the other driver(s) involved in an accident is also a crucial step. At a minimum, make sure you get their names, license plate numbers and insurance information. If you can, you should also try to gather:
- Names and contact info of any passengers or other eyewitnesses
- Makes and models of involved vehicles
- Names and badge numbers of any police officers who respond
Document the scene
Make sure you document the exact location of the accident. Photos can be invaluable in insurance claims and legal processes, so take photos with your phone if you can. Any other observations you can record, such as notes or diagrams, can also be helpful.
Watch what you say
Your words and actions at the accident scene can have important ramifications down the line in insurance claims or litigation. Even though an accident is a stressful situation, be mindful of what you say.
For example, even if you feel fine, it may be premature for you to conclusively state that you are unhurt. If you are asked whether you are OK, answer that you’re not sure and that you need to see a doctor first.
When you are speaking with the police or other people involved in the accident, it’s best not to admit wrongdoing or take the blame. Instead of saying “I’m sorry!” to the other driver, for example, focus instead on asking them whether they are OK or need any help.
Contact your insurance provider
Let your insurance provider know about the accident as soon as possible. Most insurance companies have rules about how soon you need to report an accident, and if you don’t do so in a timely manner, you may be denied a claim or other benefits. You should be able to find contact info from your insurance card or your insurance company’s website or app.
See a doctor
Always get checked out by a doctor after an accident, even if everything seems fine. You may be in shock and not fully aware of your injuries, and signs of injury may not show up immediately. Early assessment and treatment can be key in dealing with medical issues.
Contact an attorney
Depending on the situation, you may wish to consult with a lawyer, particularly if you believe you are at fault in the accident, you sustain serious injuries or you are having difficulty with your insurance claim.
Keeping these steps in mind can help you when that traffic accident happens —and save you a lot of trouble down the road.