What To Do After A Car Accident

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Car AccidentA few years ago, I was driving from one office building to another when a Dodge Durango ran a red light and totaled my car. I was fine, as the Durango hit me at a forty-five degree angle, but my car was destroyed. The passenger door was dented in, the front quarter-panel was crushed, the frame was bent, and the wheel was crooked on the axle. If that wasn’t enough, both airbags deployed – my Acura Integra was kaput. I was fortunate in that accident because I wasn’t at fault, the other driver was calm, a witness stopped, and the police handled the situation expeditiously. The end result was that I got a check and needed a new car, but the process as quick as could be expected.

There was one good thing about that experience, it taught me how to properly respond in the event of an accident. Accidents are very scary and it’s very easy to lose your calm. They are exactly like those “controversial” Volkswagon “Safe Happens” commercials (I embedded two at the end of this article, they are very shocking). One minute you’re minding your own business, the next you’re being violently interrupted.

Here’s what I do immediately following an accident, I’ve written little notes down to myself on a piece of paper in my wallet to remind me. (In fact, I got the idea from Geico, which writes a sub-set of these instructions on what you should do immediately following an accident)

Never Admit Fault

No matter what happens, don’t ever admit you were at fault in the accident. This isn’t so that you can get away with something that you did but it’s to protect you in the event your memory of events or your understanding of who is at fault is wrong. When my car was totaled after the other driver ran a red light, I was a little dazed and unsure what had happened. I was turning and had a dedicated turn arrow but at the time I wondered if I only had a regular green and should’ve yielded. The police and the insurance companies can sort that stuff out and they know all the laws.

Don’t Get Out

If your car is smoking or on fire, get out immediately. If everything seems to be fine, just sit for a minute and collect your thoughts. You may have gotten a concussion or hurt something in your body, you don’t want to be moving around too much unless it’s absolutely necessary. Take this time to collect your thoughts, try to figure out what happened, and look at the other driver. If the other person looks furious, unbalanced, whatever… lock your doors, call the police immediately. It’s not uncommon for someone to be upset and have that anger turn into blows.

Call The Police

If it’s more than a little bump and superficial scratches, call the police. If you need emergency assistance, such as a tow, call the police before you call a tow. If the accident is severe, you’ll want the police to write a record and issue a ticket. The ticket is an indication of who the police find at fault, having one of those makes it much easier to deal with insurance companies. Police can also diffuse hot tempers. If the other person looks like they’re going to do something, you’ll want the police there.

Get Driver’s License & Insurance Info

When you collect the other driver’s information, copy down everything from his or her driver’s license. You’ll want everything from the state it’s issued to their address to the ID number. There is no such thing as having too much information. Also remember to get their phone number as well, confirm if you must (call them). Get all of their insurance information as well, essentially carbon copying the data on their card (ask for a card, not just for them to recite it). Also get the make, model, and license plate of their car. If you have any problems, call the police if they aren’t there already.

Call Your Insurance Company

If you have comprehensive and collision insurance, which is insurance for your own vehicle in an accident, call your insurance company and let them know what happened. They are responsible for paying for the repairs on your car if the other driver is found to be not at fault, which means they will work hard at proving the other driver is at fault (if they are). This ultimately means less work for you, so take advantage of it (you are paying them for this anyway!).

Don’t File A False Claim

Whenever insurance is involved, there’s always the opportunity for fraud. You may be tempted to file a damage claim for something that happened a few months ago, please don’t. Fraud is a serious crime, don’t throw your future away for a few dollars in repairs in the present.

Volkswagon Commercials

The two commercials I promised are after the jump.

(Photo: andyfitz)

{ 34 comments, please add your thoughts now! }

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34 Responses to “What To Do After A Car Accident”

  1. All excellent tips.

    I would also add that you should not admit liability, even if you think it was your fault. Let the insurance companies and police make that determination.

    You should also report the accident to your insurance company even if the collision seemed minor and the other driver wants to settle things without going the insurance route. Small accidents can lead to much larger claims than you might think, and trying to avoid using your insurance company might just leave you without coverage when you need it if things blow up.

  2. jim says:

    Wow, how did I miss that one?

  3. Patrick says:

    Glad to hear you weren’t hurt in your accident. My wife was recently in a fender bender and thankfully no one was injured (she was rear ended; her car received little damage, but it was bad on the other car). Her insurance company handled everything smoothly and quickly. We were very happy with the results!

    And yeah, those commercials are gripping.

  4. Jackson says:

    When you call the police what number do you call? 911? Or a local non-emergency number?

    • Eric N. says:

      I had the same question awhile ago. Of course if you’re not in your local area then 911 would be the only option. I just feel guilty calling if it were a very minor accident…but better safe than sorry?

      • Jackson says:

        Yeah, that was my main concern as well.

        But you’re right. If you get into an accident that’s not in your local area, I guess there’s no other choice.

    • Andi says:

      I would say it depends if you know the local number and the severity of the accident.

      When in doubt, call 911.

  5. great tips that people hopefully will not have to use…

    also when it comes to injuries, as small as they might seem at the time of accident, get medical attention. Many injuries will start off as minor pains of kinks (eg. Grade 1 Whiplash) which if not taken care of properly could get worse.

  6. CK says:

    Getting out of the car after an accident when on a snowy or icy freeway can be very dangerous. Many people get killed after accidents on the highway by other cars that lose control.

    • Randy says:

      CK, I agree and I’ve been told the same. But I always wonder if I should stay in the car after an accident on the highway? I mean wouldn’t it be safer if I get quickly to the shoulder? I really want to know what is the best action in such a situation…

      Any thoughts?

  7. thomas says:

    Been awhile since I was involved in an accident. Great refresher that I hope I never have to utilize.

  8. Scott says:

    There are situations where it is much smarter to get out of the car. If you’re on an interstate or other major expressway and have a small enough fender bender that you are able to safely get your car off the road you should do so ASAP. This is for your own safety and the safety of all other drivers on the road. The highway signs (“Fender Bender?”) and police will tell you the same thing.

    I will share the story I’ve shared with many friends and family that happened when I was living in Baltimore about 5 years back. Two cars had a small fender bender around 6am on the outer beltway where it comes around a curve. The drivers called the police but did not move their cars because (we assume) they wanted to wait for the police to assess who was at fault for insurance reasons. In the meantime a tractor trailer came around the curve at the normal posted speed but because of the cars location right around the curve, the truck did not have enough time to safely stop and completely cleared the scene, killing everyone in both cars. Moral of the story – assess your situation and if you could be in danger of causing a larger accident than the one you were just in, move yourself and/or your car somewhere else.

  9. lulugal11 says:

    If you have a cell phone with a camera it is good idea to take pictures as well if you are able. Some people keep cheap disposable cameras in their cars for that reason. But cell phones are generally good enough. I

  10. Posco says:

    Along with “Never Admit Fault”, never say “I’m sorry” since that may imply admission of fault.

  11. Posco says:

    Oh yeah: Some states’ DMV (such as California) require you to fill out an accident report that is IN ADDITION to any police report.

  12. Eric N. says:

    Oh taking pictures! That’s a good tip…

    Thanks for the write up Jim. Someone recently rear-ended me but it was more like a tap and I didn’t see any damage whatsoever on my car. I thought about filing a claim anyhow but I haven’t thinking there’s really no damage to report. I guess I should rethink that?

    • jim says:

      The risk is that you get hurt and then have no way of making a claim because you never reported it in the first place.

    • Jackson says:

      If there is absolutely nothing wrong I might think twice about filing a claim.

      I was in a similar situation. Some person rear-ended me but my bumper was cracked so I did file a claim (his insurance company paid, not mine since it was his fault).

      Then a couple years later when I switched insurance companies they asked if I filed any claims before, even if it wasn’t my fault.

      I was told by an agent that even if the accident isn’t your fault, it still might count against you.

    • Eric N. says:

      Good points, good points. I think I’ll mull over it a little more and see what I should do. Thanks guys.

  13. In Arizona we’re asked to move fender benders off the freeway but it’s nearly impossible because of inconsiderate drivers. Not too long ago, I was stuck behind a fender bender at the Broadway Curve. The accident was holding up traffic, the lady’s airbag had gone off, you could see she was little dazed and there was NO way for her to even think about moving as the cars behind us were zooming around and past her car. When I finally got the opportunity to pass her, I was in position to BLOCK the stupid drivers coming up behind us. Two vehicles were pulled over, I got the guys’ attention and asked if they wanted to push her vehicle to the emergency lane. They were very grateful and traffic could resume. It’s a dangerous stretch during rush hour where two main highways converge with both lanes needing to merge 2-3 lanes within a mile or two depending on if you are merging to another freeway. I have to merge twice and cars are merging into my lane from both sides, and then when it’s finally safe, traffic suddenly slams to a halt in front of me, while someone speeds up alongside me, even though I’m halfway in the lane, with my signal on, clearly merging. People don’t pay attention, they don’t slow down to let people in. Anyway, I felt I’d done my good deed for the day. If the other drivers would have just thought for one second, they could have done the same, and cleared up that lane.

  14. Jason says:

    Check the expiration date on the other driver’s license. If it is expired ask for a more current license and their business card. If they are from out of state ask for the license info from their passenger. If they give you their cell number, call it right there to verify its accurate.

    I was given an expired out of state license and phony phone number once. Thankfully the driver was using his friend’s car and the police were kind enough to give me the address from the DMV record for the license plate (which i almost didn’t write down). I was able to track him down through his friend but would have been at a total loss without it.

  15. Anonymous says:

    I was recently t-boned by another driver. His insurance is going to pay for my damages. However every day (4days)I am feeling more pain, stiffness, sleeplessness and really unable to work. I also have to pay for half of my rental car. This whole ordeal is just overwhelming.

    • Val says:

      I just had this happen to me. Driver went through a red light. t-boned me. My insurance is not helping me at all. Feel lost. Top things off my Dr. who I have went to for years refused to see me until I had there insurance company and claim number! I didn’t even no there name at the time because I was taken to er. Now my insurance says they will take care of my car..but not personal injury!? They told me to get a lawyer!? Called a lawyer and they said talk to you insurance company? What the heck am I too do? I just want a car to drive and my amblance fee and hospitals bills paid. I can’t sleep more then 3 hours because of back pain. Just overwhelming!

  16. Clarissa says:

    take pics so the police can see what the bastards did to your car.

  17. Shalom says:

    Do you really have to call the insurance when you get to an auto accident?


    WHY do you have to call the insurance?

  18. jo says:

    i had an accident, a week ago pulling out of a junction nearly on our side of the road when a car came flying around the corner and hit the side of my car, pushing us backward. he must of being doing 70mph. the uk law states its our fault. were trying prove its not. dont admit anythink. takes pictures as soon as you can rufuse that the cars can not be moved untill you have done so. fight your case. call the police its on record. and get strait to the docters if any pains start it on record then.

  19. Elizar says:

    Thanks for these tips.. I was involved in an accident this afternoon. I was hit at the rear bumper and obviously it wasn’t my fault because
    we are all stop and suddenly this guy hit me at the back. I’m just a bit worried because we didn’t call the police and we pulled out our cars in the middle of the traffic right after we checked the damage.When I called the police station to ask about it, they told me that if no one was injured there is no need for the police report.
    The other driver’s insurance already gave me a claim number and schedule for the car to be checked by one of their driving location before bringing my car to the repair shop.
    One question, do I have to worry about anything else, even though everything was settled already?

    • Jackson says:

      The same thing happened to me.

      One thing to consider is that if you ever change insurance companies, they will ask if you have ever been in any accident, even if it’s not your fault they want to know.

      I’m not sure if that affected my rates, but I’ve heard that it might.

  20. Amanda says:

    I was tboned by someone who ran a red light about 2 hours ago. My car is totaled. I called the police and they called a tow truck we filed reports and the officer charged the other person with running a red light. At the time i was confused panicky and angry that I wasn’t paying attention to my body. Since I’ve been home my back has been hurting. Since I told the officer that i was ok can I still get her insurance to pay a doctors bill if I go to that doc? I don’t have health insurance.

  21. Matt Pollard says:

    Just this past friday I was in a car accident. Not my fault. I was at a 4 way intersection, and a man ran a stop sign, and I t-boned him. I did not have a stop sign, as thusly the right of way. He didn’t even slow down. I had about 30 feet of space between myself and his car.

    After the impact, it left my girlfriend profusely bleeding from the mouth, nose, face, and eyes, and I was bleeding from my arm (the airbag burned it really, really bad). I must say though, adrenaline rushes are very scary, and you do things you wouldn’t normally do. The sound of the screams coming out of my girlfriend were sounds I’ve never heard before. She sprinted to the side of the road, and I got out of the car and started screaming at the man. I calmed myself down after a minute, and we talked. He obviously said that he did nothing wrong.

    When the police got there, they tried to pin it on me. Fortunetly, by then I was in a semi okay state of mind. They were attempting to give me a speeding ticket. However, I remember in my physics class in college the equation for a vehicle skidding, and if said vehicle hits something. Yesterday, I made my case to the officer who was issuing the citation, and proved him wrong.

    The equation is simple and elegant, and can be read about here

    Moral of the story, know what happened and don’t get flustered. The police in this small town tried to turn the accident on me, when it clearly wasn’t my fault. Being able to pull yourself together, and knowing how to prove something, is very, very crucial.

  22. sherrill says:

    ok so i was at the school picking up my lil gurl an there are four small lines we can line up in well there was this car parked beside me an she had already got her child b4 school was out an she tryed fitting in between me an a van that was parked in front of me well i started to back up double checking if there was neone behind me an it was clear so i started to back up an all the sudden i heard a lil tap out of nowhere there was a lady in a ford focus behind me didnt do ne damage to either car but now its a week later an she wants to file a claim no police were called an there wasnt ne damage who is at fault an what should i tell her

  23. This was super helpful and soothing. I just got in a car accident this morning. I’m hoping everything goes as smoothly as possible.

  24. pharo says:

    Drive safe and use seatbelts

  25. Lola says:

    It was snowy and slick out when i came around a
    Curve and i saw a cars headlights in my lane so i tried to stop and miss the car the best i could but my car was sliding and would not stop or turn. I hit them pretty much head on at a low speed which then caused me to hit the other side of the road in which i smashed into the guard rail. When i realized what heppened the car i hit was in my lane facing me because they had just been in an accident a little earlier. Is anything my fault?

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