What to Do If You Are in a Car Accident

Natalie Josef
February 15, 2012

Hopefully, you will never need any of the following advice, but the fact is 1 in 100 people will be involved in a car accident at some point in their lives. While hoping for the best though, it’s still good to prepare for the worst. Though not an exhaustive list, here are some things to remember if you are in a car crash.

Stay Calm
I know, easier said than done. But at least take a couple of deep breaths. Your adrenaline will kick in, but you can still make intelligent decisions if you stay calm. Before you get out of the car, make sure you are okay. You may not feel like you are hurt because of the adrenaline rushing through you, but you might be hurt, so take stock before you jump out of the car just to find out that you have a sprained ankle.

Call 911
Seems obvious, doesn’t it? But some people might panic at the thought of getting the police involved, especially if they are at fault for the accident. Chances are someone who witnessed the accident will call 911, but if you think of it, go ahead and call them. Having police on the scene will restore order and calm to the situation, which is better for everybody, regardless of who is at fault. If the other person is freaking out, even better to have the police deal with him than you.

Move Out of the Way
While moving your cars to help traffic is a nice gesture, it’s not always practical. What is important is moving yourself and any other people out of the road. We’ve all heard of those tragic instances when people have been hit when standing on the side of the road or helping others who have just been in an accident. Don’t put yourself in further danger—move to a safe place as soon as possible and then get down to business. If you can’t move your vehicle, then put on the hazards or set down flares. If the accident was minor, you can move your vehicle, but not until you have followed the rest of the items on this list.

Exchange Information
In 70 percent of accidents, no one is injured, so hopefully this applies to your situation. If the other driver is calm and approachable, get as much information from her as possible. Grab your license and insurance card first and then get as much as the following from her—name, address, phone number, VIN number, insurance company and policy number, license plate number, and driver’s licence number. If the person driving the car is not the owner, try to get that person’s information, too.

Also, don’t claim it was your fault, even if it was. I am not encouraging anyone to lie—far from it. All I am saying is that you should let insurance companies decide who is at fault. When talking to the police or to the other driver, try to state the facts, not your interpretation of them. Ultimately, it’s the insurance companies’ decision of who is at fault and how that will affect your rates.

If the other person is reluctant to share information, back off and wait for the police to come.

Write Down What Happened
If you can, write down how fast you were traveling, street names, the posted speed limit, road surface conditions, what direction you were traveling in, the license plate numbers or names of people who were in the vicinity when the crash occurred. These details can prove very helpful after the fact.

Take Pictures
Regardless of whom you believe to be at fault (remember, that’s for the insurance companies to decide), take as many pictures as possible of the scene, the cars, the damage to the vehicles, etc. Take a picture of the other driver’s license or of potential witnesses. If you notice a beer can in the other driver’s passenger seat, take a picture of it. Documenting the entire scene can help your claim down the line.

File an Accident Report and Insurance Claim
If police are on the scene, they will fill out an accident report and give you a copy to submit to your insurance company. If the police aren’t there, you must file the report yourself. Make sure you do so in a timely fashion, as many states have limits as to how long you can wait before filing.

When filing a claim with your insurance, be detailed, submit your pictures, and any witness information. And be honest—lying is not going to make things easier on you down the line.

Remember, be safe, be calm, and be honest!

Natalie Josef

About the Author

Natalie Josef is an automotive expert at RepairPal, the leading online source of auto repair resources and estimates. With many ASE Master certified mechanics on staff who have decades of experience, RepairPal knows all the fine points of car repair.

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