Vehicle accidents are among the leading contributors to fatalities in the US, and around the world.
When the unexpected happens, what you do immediately after an accident can reduce the damages to yourself, your passengers, and to the vehicle by lowering medical bills and vehicle repair or replacement costs.
Of course, your first instinct as a driver is to avoid an accident, by driving safely and not distracted. Unfortunately, some accidents are avoidable, even when you a driving a late model car with such technical advancements as automatic braking and blind-spot monitoring.
These tips will help you reduce damage to your vehicle and to you and any passengers.
Check for Injuries
Determine immediately if everybody is okay, especially children in their car seats.
If you are seriously injured, try not to move. Just wait for help.
Turn on Your Hazard Signal
Turn off the engine and turn on the hazards.
The flashing lights are designed to be easily visible from a distance, to inform approaching drivers of the accident so they will approach with caution.
With as much calm as you can muster, tell the 911 dispatcher what happened, including your location.
The local 911 dispatcher will alert the local police, highway patrol, fire department and an ambulance service, as required by the details you provide.
Accident alert systems, such as OnStar on GM vehicles, automatically contact 911 for you when the system recognizes a crash. A specially trained concierge also calls you for additional assessment – and to keep you calm until help arrives.
You may find yourself scared and stressed to the point that you do not even realize you have been injured, or any passengers.
Paramedics will assess you for common types of injuries. Even the slightest pain should not be ignored. There are instances of drivers or passengers who suffer internal bleeding or become paralyzed, even die.
It’s a requirement by the law to report every traffic incident to the police, who will carry out an investigation at the scene before filing a report.
The investigative report is essential for following up with your insurance company for compensation.
Use your smartphone document the damage, with both still and video, of the damage to your vehicle, and also to the other one, if another vehicle was involved.
This is no time for selfies. A dozen quick photos, both close-ups and wider-angle photos that include the location, and 15-30 seconds of video will help document your claim.
Use your phone also to record yourself telling all the details for your own records. It’s easy to forget the details when you are shaken up from a crash, so a recording of you talking about it might help later.
This is one time it’s okay to talk to yourself.
Exchange Information with the Other Driver
State laws vary, but the best advice is to avoid blaming the other driver, or admitting guilt yourself. Either one can affect the outcome of insurance claims.
This advice is from the Insurance Information Institute the non-profit representing the insurance industry:
Here’s the most important information drivers should exchange after an accident:
- Full name and contact information
- Insurance company and policy number
- Driver’s license and license plate number
- Type, color and model of vehicle
- Location of accident
When police arrive, be sure to get their names and badge numbers,
Contact Your Insurance Company
You should also contact your auto insurance company as soon as possible after an accident.
Find out now – before an accident – if your insurance company has an app, which will notify them automatically of a claim, and add the details later.
Simply, that’s a good thing to have on your phone, in the hopes you’ll never need to use it.
When you file an insurance claim, the adjuster reviewing your claim will determine who’s at fault based on an inspection of the vehicles/property damaged, information provided by you and the other parties involved in the accident, and any supporting documentation, including the police report or photographs from the scene.
That’s another reason it’s important to contact the police, even for a minor fender-bender.
Get Your Vehicle Off the Road
Leaving the car on the road can result in more accidents, especially if it is a busy highway in rush hour.
If you are not injured, and your vehicle is still driveable and not in danger of catching on fire, drive slowly to the side of the road and leave it there with the hazard signals on. Moving the vehicle to the side prevents additional damage to your car and yourself if a second accident happens.
You should get out of the vehicle, and move to someplace safer, away from traffic.
That advice is for daylight and well-trafficked roads. If it is dark, and the accident is on an isolated road, you may be safer to lock yourself in the vehicle until help arrives.
Getting Help From Other Motorists
We’ve all seen videos that have gone viral of Good Samaritans stopping to help at an accident site, even before police or EMTs arrive, even pulling a driver out of a vehicle already on fire.
That’s much more likely than a “bad guy” stopping to hijack your damaged vehicle, rob you or kidnap you.
Still, you should assess the situation carefully before you move close to moving traffic to signal for help.
Let’s hope you are never in an accident, and that these safety tips are just that – tips.