Car accidents are scary and unexpected, but if you’re involved in one of the 6 million (on average) motor vehicle accidents that occur in the United States each year, there are several important steps you should take to make your life easier in the long run.
You should keep a cell phone, pen and paper, a flashlight, a camera for documenting damage, and important documents including IDs, a current auto insurance card and your registration in the car at all times. It’s also smart to carry a blanket and warning triangles or emergency flares in the trunk.
What to do after an accident
- Move your car out of the way, if you are able to do so.
- Find out if anyone is injured. If so, call the police immediately. If there aren’t any injuries or enough damage for the police to be dispatched, you should file an incident report later.
- Administer first aid, if necessary. Cover injured people with a blanket to keep them warm.
- Set up warning triangles or emergency flares to protect yourself, your car and others from being hit.
- Exchange information: According to the Insurance Information Institute, you should write down: The names and addresses of everyone involved in the accident, license plate numbers, make and model of each car, driver’s license numbers, insurance identifications and information, names and addresses of witnesses, names and badge numbers of responding police officers.
- Be polite, but don’t admit fault. Even if you think you caused the accident, it’s best to let the experts determine that. If you give a statement to the police, simply tell them the facts as you remember them.
- Avoid negotiating. If damage is minimal, it may be tempting to settle the matter off the record. However, you could be held responsible for damage or injuries that weren’t immediately apparent.
- Document the accident with your camera (you can use your cellphone camera), making sure to get a range of photos that show the overall state of the accident including where the cars are positioned.
- If police respond, make sure to ask how to get a copy of the police report. This will make filing a claim easier.
Start the claims process as soon as possible. Insurance companies have a time frame for when you must inform them of an accident, and the National Association of Insurance Commissioners recommends beginning the process while details are still fresh in your mind.
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