Let’s face it, getting in a traffic accident is a horrible experience, whether it is your fault or not. There’s a flood of emotions, often a bit of chaos, and usually some confusion about what just happened.
Being prepared can make the process a whole lot easier. Just keeping a pen, some paper, or a blank accident report, and a flashlight in your glove compartment is a great help when it comes to collecting information.
It’s critical that you calm down and take a step-by-step approach to the aftermath of the collision. What you do in the next seconds, minutes, and hours is crucial to protecting your health and pocketbook. Plus it ensures that you are doing all of the tasks that you are legally required to do.
Check Yourself and Passengers for Injuries
In the moments following a collision, thoroughly check yourself and your passengers for injuries. If you or any of them have neck or back pain, you need to stop the injured person from moving and wait for first responders to arrive. Paramedics know the proper ways to safely move patients with those injuries, without creating additional trauma.
Check Your Immediate Surroundings
Take a deep breath and assess what is going on around you. Are you safe? Do you smell smoke? Is there anything that you have to do immediately to keep yourself safe?
In case of an accident, the first priority is safety. Everything else is secondary.
Move Your Car to a Safe Place and Stop
If the accident was minor and you are not injured, it is best to move your vehicle to a safe spot out of the traffic flow. If there are severe injuries to anyone involved, however, you should leave your car in place for the accident investigation.
When you move your vehicle, do it slowly so that you don’t cause more damage or injuries. Calm down and remember to turn your hazard lights on, put the car in park with the parking brake on, and turn the vehicle off. If you have a chance, look at any other cars involved in the accident and jot down their license plate numbers – just in case they decide to drive away from the scene.
Whatever you do, you should not leave the scene of the accident. If you have to go because you are being threatened or it is otherwise unsafe for you to be there, you should be on the phone to 911, explaining why you left and where you are going. Returning to the scene once first responders have arrived is your best strategy in this case. Doing anything else risks a citation or arrest for hit-and-run.
Check the Occupants of Other Vehicles for Injuries
Next, watch for traffic and exit your vehicle. Check the occupants of any other cars and pedestrians who were involved for injuries and call 911 if there are any. Even seemingly minor injuries should be checked out so that they don’t lead to more significant problems down the road.
Don’t assume that someone has already called for help. You don’t want there to be any unnecessary delay in the response of paramedics and ambulances.
This is not the time to get into any prolonged conversations with others involved in the accident. You’re just trying to make sure everyone who needs help is getting it. There’s time to talk later.
Call the Police
Even with minor accidents, having a police report can help insurance companies and courts decipher the truth. While many police agencies won’t respond to minor fender benders, if there is any chance that there is an injury or if the wrecked cars are a traffic hazard, they will.
If any other drivers involved in the accident don’t want you to call the cops, you should consider that a red flag that they might be an uninsured driver or under the influence of intoxicants and don’t want the police to know about it. In that case, it’s especially important that you call.
If the police do respond, only discuss the facts of the accident with them, without opinions of what you think might have happened. Provide them with your driver’s license, registration, and proof of insurance. Even if you think you are at fault for the collision, having an unbiased police report can identify other factors that could reduce the amount of responsibility you ultimately assume.
The police can also help you arrange for tow trucks to get your car to the shop, and they can put out cones and flares to prevent additional accidents.
Watch Those Emotions
If you have just been in an accident, your head is likely swirling with emotions. You might be angry, you might be contrite, and you’re almost certainly a little confused. Getting into an argument with another driver or saying that you are sorry for what has happened can cause you legal issues later.
The side of the road is not the place to assess responsibility for the accident. Avoid inadvertently claiming responsibility, saying I’m sorry, or offering to pay for damages. The negotiations about who is held responsible are best left to your car insurance company or their attorneys.
Exchange Information With Other Parties
Parties involved in collisions are required by law to exchange information with others involved. You should exchange names, addresses, phone numbers, email addresses, insurance company names, and car insurance policy numbers. You’ll also want the make, model, color, and license plate number of any cars involved.
Using your cell phone to take a photo of driver’s licenses, registrations, insurance documents, and license plates can give you a backup if you have any errors in your note-taking. If the name of the driver does not match the registration or proof of insurance document, try to determine the relationship of the driver to the car.
You should never share your social security number or the coverage limits on your insurance policy with any other person involved in the accident.
If there are any witnesses, quickly get their contact details before they get impatient and leave the scene. From the police on the scene, get a report number and the badge number or business card of the officer handling the report.