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What to do after a car accident

October 25, 2016
Get familiar with your auto insurance coverage and take note of the basic steps involved in handling a traffic accident.

According to the National Highway and Transportation Safety Administration, more than 10 million vehicles were involved in a police-reported accident in the U.S. in 2014. The vast majority of these incidents did not result in any injuries or fatalities, indicating that driving remains an exceptionally safe mode of transport. Still, the risk that you might be involved in a traffic accident is always there. To be prepared if it happens, get familiar with your auto insurance coverage and take note of the basic steps involved in handling a traffic accident.

Planning ahead

The first step in basic accident preparedness is to ensure you have all the necessary tools available to handle the situation. This includes insurance information and vehicle registration forms which will be needed to properly document the incident with authorities. Beyond these basics, AAA also advised drivers to assemble their own emergency safety kit, which may prove invaluable in the event of an accident. A basic safety kit should be kept in the car at all times in a sturdy container that includes:

  • Flashlight with extra batteries
  • First-aid kit
  • Reflective warning signs and vest
  • Small toolkit
  • Rain poncho
  • Blanket

These items will all prove useful in the event of an accident at night or a situation where you are stranded for a period of time. In addition, be sure to have a cell phone and car charger on your person when driving, especially on long journeys through remote areas.

When it happens

It's impossible to know when or where an accident will happen, but when it does, safety should be the first priority. If you're involved in a collision, bring the car to a complete stop in a safe area and make sure you and your passengers are okay. If there's any sign that someone might be hurt, even slightly, don't hesitate to call 9-1-1.

As Cars.com noted, if you can move your car, be sure to position it as far from traffic as possible. You still need to get out of the car to assess damage and exchange information with the other driver. Do so in the safest, most careful way possible.

Don't panic

No matter what happened to cause the accident or what the resulting damage looks like, it's understandable to be at least a little shaken up immediately afterward. Take a moment to collect yourself before speaking to the other driver. When doing so, keep in mind what exactly you say.

  • If you believe the accident was your fault, you don't need to admit guilt. Even saying “I'm sorry" to the other driver could be used as evidence of liability in court. As long as everyone is okay, use this opportunity to exchange insurance information and save the details for police.
  • If you believe the accident was not your fault, maintain your composure as best you can. Insulting or threatening the other driver will only make things more difficult.

Even if the accident was only minor and no one was harmed, you should still call the police and have them file a report to make sure you have all the proof your auto insurance provider needs. The police will need your driver's license, registration, current address and proof that you are financially responsible for the vehicle. You should also obtain the other driver's name, contact information and insurance information as well.

If possible, take several photos of the accident scene and damage to the vehicles. It's a good idea to even get a picture of the other driver if they allow it. These photos could be crucial to getting claims reimbursed and getting the process to flow smoothly.

Finally, once everything is cleared away and you can return home, you may want to see a doctor. Even if you weren't obviously injured, the force of some auto accidents can cause damage to the brain or spinal cord that doesn't present itself for hours or even days afterward. You should seek immediate medical attention if you experience any neck pain, stiffness, numbness in the arms or dizziness after an accident, as this may indicate a serious injury.

Car accidents can be frightening, stressful ordeals. However, being properly prepared for one might alleviate some of that difficulty when one does occur.