After a car accident, things can get so hectic that you'll probably have a hard time thinking straight. These are the things you need to do to prepare for an accident, as well as the steps you should follow if you're involved in one.
Picture: Nick Criscuolo
Be Prepared Before It Happens
You never know when an accident might occur, so it's important to be ready. Obviously you need to have your insurance information, vehicle registration and licence with you, but it's also a good idea to have an emergency kit in your car.
Your accident emergency kit should at least include:
- First aid kit
- Seat belt cutter and window breaker (we like this one)
- Flares, reflective triangle (you get one in this roadside assistance kit) or orange cones
Philip Reed at Edmunds suggests, however, that you also include the following in your kit if possible:
- Something to take photos with (besides your smartphone, just in case)
- An auto accident report form (or at least a pen and some paper)
- A medical allergy and conditions card for yourself and regular passengers
- A list of contact numbers for local law enforcement
Most of these things can fit in your glove box, so there's no reason not to have them with you. The more prepared you are for the possibility of an accident, the less frazzled and confused you'll be if it happens.
Make Sure Everyone Is OK and Move to Safety
Safety should be your number one priority when an accident happens, so before you do anything else, make sure that everyone involved is OK. Check with each and every person involved in the accident, passengers included. If someone is hurt, don't hesitate to call 000 immediately. If somebody seems unresponsive, groggy or unsure if they're OK, call 000 anyway. A lot of injuries can be internal, so it's always better to be safe than sorry.
If it's apparent that everyone is OK, the Allstate blog recommends you move everyone to safety as soon as possible:
You and your passengers should relocate to the footpath or shoulder of the road as soon as possible following an accident. If the damage to your car is minor and the accident is straightforward, you can move the vehicle to the shoulder, as well. But if there are any injuries involved or you have any questions about the safety of driving the car, leave it where it is-even if it's blocking traffic.
Whether you decide to move your car or not, turn on your hazard lights, lay out orange cones, reflective triangles or flares, and do whatever you can to increase visibility of the situation to other drivers. The last thing you want is to do is cause another accident. If there is no shoulder or footpath, do your best to stay away from the flow of traffic.
Keep Your Cool
If the accident wasn't your fault, you might feel the urge to get angry and yell at the other driver. This won't go well. First, blaming the other person might make it harder to deal with them, and you still need to get their information. Second, getting angry will give you tunnel vision and make it harder to think at a time when you need to be as aware as possible.
Remember, you still need to exchange information, file a report with police, document the damage to your vehicle, and contact your insurance. Same goes for if the accident was your fault. Even if they start yelling at you, try to keep focused on the business at hand, and try to be as polite as possible.
Call the Police and File a Report
Once everyone is safe it's time to get the police involved, even if it's only a minor accident. Make sure you contact the local police for the area you're in or the highway patrol if you're in an unincorporated area. When they arrive, you'll need to provide:
- Your driver's licence
- Your vehicle's registration information
- Evidence that you are financially responsible for the vehicle
- Your current address (if it's different than what's on your licence)
You'll then need to fill out an accident report and provide information on the place and time of the accident, the other driver's information, and an explanation of injuries and property damage.
When dealing with the police, Tim Cadet at Cars.com recommends you get some specific information from the officer(s) as well:
Ask the police for a copy of the accident report. It may take up to a couple of days before it is filed. The officer's opinion of the accident will be useful if the drivers have a dispute about who was to blame. The police report will also have the officer's information on it in case the officer is needed to testify.
If you can't get a copy of the report, at least get the officer's name, badge number, phone number and the police report number. Don't ever leave the scene before an officer arrives either.
There may be some cases, like minor fender benders, where neither party will want to contact the police, but there are still some benefits to filing a report. If you develop symptoms of an injury later on, it will be much easier to seek compensation through your insurance. Additionally, police reports strengthen your case in insurance claims because they represent an unbiased third party. Lastly, you might think that your car is relatively undamaged when you inspect it on the spot, but if you discover that your car really is damaged later on, a police report makes it a lot easier to make an insurance claim.
Get the Other Driver's Information
While you're waiting for the police to arrive, it's imperative that you get the other driver's insurance and personal information. At minimum, make sure you write down these things:
- Their name
- Their address
- Their phone number
- The make and model of their car
- Their licence plate number
- Their insurance carrier and insurance policy number
If possible, State Farm also recommends you try and get this additional information just in case:
- Their email address
- The relationship of the driver to the owner of the car (if they aren't the owner)
- A photo of them
Lastly, be careful about the information you hand out. Never sign a document unless it's for the police or your insurance agent.
Never Admit Guilt or Apologise
To protect yourself, it's important you never admit that the accident was your fault. Craig Howie at CNN explains that even if the accident was your fault, and no matter how emotional you feel, admitting guilt or apologising can make things a lot more difficult for you down the line. When you talk to the other driver, keep it down to business. Only state facts and limit your discussion about the accident as much as possible. Let the police and insurance companies determine fault. You might feel really bad now, but you'll feel even worse if your insurance premiums go up or if you get sued.
Take Photos and Write Notes for Your Insurance Claim
In the moment, you might think that there's no way you'll forget what just happened, but you don't want to run the risk. Take photos of the accident scene, the damage to your vehicle, the damage to their vehicle, any injuries that might have occurred and the surrounding area. You can easily do all of this with your smartphone, but it's not a bad idea to have a backup camera in your glove box. Even if it's a disposable camera, having some crappy photos is a lot better than not having any at all. When in doubt, take more pictures.
Once you have all the photos you need, take a moment to write down exactly what happened. Describe the scenario in as much detail as possible, and include the moments leading up to the accident. The sooner you note what happened, the easier it will be to give your account to the police and your insurance claims adjuster after that.
Consider Going to the Doctor (or at Least Talk to One)
Even if you feel ok after the accident, you should take the risk of injury seriously. You might feel fine, but there are a number of injuries commonly associated with car accidents that don't show symptoms immediately. Your adrenaline can easily hide the fact that you're hurt, so be sure to keep an eye out for any pain or stiffness as time passes.
Whiplash is one of the most common of these injuries and it can take up to 24 hours for you to develop noticeable symptoms. According to Mayo Clinic, these are the biggest warning signs:
- Neck pain and stiffness
- Worsening of pain with neck movement
- Loss of range of motion in the neck
- Headaches, most often starting at the base of the skull
- Tenderness or pain in shoulder, upper back or arms
- Tingling or numbness in the arms
As soon as you start to experience any combination of those symptoms, get yourself checked out. If you're not entirely sure, again, it's always better to be safe than sorry, especially with injuries that involve the spine or neck. Even if you think you're fine, Amanda Lautieri, Limited Lines Auto Agent, suggests you at least call your doctor to discuss the accident and get medical advice.