If you’ve ever been in a car accident, then you know firsthand how overwhelming and disorienting it can be. Amid the initial shock and rush of adrenaline, your mind races with concern over potential injuries, the safety of your passengers and the other driver, as well as the extent of the damage.
Above all, you’re likely asking yourself: What do I do now?
While you can’t control other people’s behavior behind the wheel, you can make a game plan so that you’re prepared in the event of an accident. In this guide, we’ll walk you through what to do immediately after a collision, how to file an insurance claim, and how to prepare for a car accident.
Getting into a car accident can feel like a whirlwind, and if it’s your first time filing an insurance claim, you might be unsure of where to start. There are some important steps you should take immediately after a collision that will make your life easier when it’s time to get the auto insurance companies involved. Let’s walk through exactly what to do, beginning from the moment of impact.
1. Check for injuries
Feeling panicked and confused right after the accident is normal. Before you start worrying about potential damage and insurance, take a minute to make sure you’re OK. The moment can be so intense that you don’t realize until later that you’re injured.
Also, check to see if any passengers in your car have been hurt. If any of the injuries are serious, immediately call 911.
2. Get to a safe spot with your passengers
Even if you’ve made it through the collision without injury, you might not be out of danger just yet. Traffic will likely still be moving around you, so your priority needs to be getting everyone in your car to safety.
If you can pull over to the side of the road, then you should do so. But if the damage to your vehicle is so extensive that it can’t be moved, then you’ll need to find a protected spot far away enough from passing cars that you’re not in harm’s way.
3. Inspect your car and document the damage
Once it’s safe to do so, take a close look at any damage to your vehicle that was caused by the accident. Sometimes damage will be obvious right away, while other times it can be more subtle, like when the damage affects the car’s engine or electrical system. If possible, take close-up photos of anything you see that could help the insurance companies understand what happened.
“Photographs of property damage are frequently used in court to evidence the amount of force involved in the collision or to support one driver’s version of how the crash occurred,” says John Willis, a personal injury attorney in Boca Raton, Florida. “Frequently, one vehicle has minimal visible damage, but the others have substantial property damage. Photographs can be invaluable in showing the impact was violent, even if your vehicle was not seriously damaged.”
4. Exchange information with the other driver(s)
Get contact information, insurance details, and identification from every driver who was involved in the collision. If possible, use your smartphone to take photos of driver’s licenses, car registrations, and insurance ID cards. Be sure to also record the make and model of each car and write down where the accident happened, the weather, and the time of day.
5. Gather contact information from any witnesses
Passersby may stop to check if anyone is hurt. If they witnessed the accident, don’t let them drive away without getting their contact information. Witness accounts are helpful in case other parties dispute the details of the accident.
6. File an accident report
If the police weren’t involved at the scene of the accident, you should file an official report with the closest police department ASAP. This can be done online. If the police were involved, ask for the name and badge number of each officer and where you can find a copy of their report.
You’ll need this official report to file an auto insurance claim. It can also come in handy if a driver sues you for medical injuries or damages, according to the Insurance Information Institute.
3 Tips for Handling a Car Accident
Getting into a car accident can be a stressful and overwhelming experience. Here are some key tips to keep in mind — and mistakes to avoid — immediately after the crash.
Don’t leave the scene of the accident
State laws require that you remain at the scene of the accident to exchange information with anyone whose vehicle was damaged. Otherwise, you could be charged with a hit-and-run. If the other car is parked and the driver isn’t present, then you must leave a note with your name and contact information.
Call the police if it’s serious
If the accident is severe and someone has been hurt, you should call the police or highway patrol. They can help manage the scene and file an accident report. Again, ask how you can get a copy of the police report and write down the names and badge numbers of the officers.
“Though some states do not mandate that the police be notified when there are no injuries and there is little or no property damage, you should almost always call the police and get a report for insurance purposes and to record the identity of the persons and vehicles involved,” Willis says. “This is particularly true if you suspect that the other driver may be under the influence of alcohol or drugs or you feel unsafe at the scene.”
Don’t admit fault at the scene
Your instinct might be to apologize right away, but that could come back to bite you when it’s time to determine which driver was at fault.
“Even if you think you may have caused the accident, in some cases, there are other reasons contributing to the accident,” Willis says.
For example, drunk drivers, defective roadways, obstructed vision, and even overgrown landscaping could be the ultimate reason behind the crash, according to Willis.
“Let your lawyer, insurance company and their investigators make the final determination as to the causes of the collision,” he says.