Car accidents happen in the blink of an eye. All it takes is a split second of a driver diverting their attention for a costly accident or death to occur.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that 42,915 people died in car accidents in 2021, which is a 10.5% increase since 2020. Here’s what to know if you find yourself at the scene of an accident.
Table of Contents
1. Stay Safe
Ensure You, Your Passengers, and the Other Driver Are Unharmed
The driver and passengers may be in shock after an accident. Make sure to stay calm and keep your passengers as calm as possible. Also, verbally check with all passengers to ensure that everyone is okay. If anyone is injured or unconscious, call an ambulance right away. Try not to move them unless the area that they’re in is unsafe.
Move Your Car to a Nearby Safe Spot if Possible
A car stalled out in the middle of a busy road or intersection is always in danger of being hit again. If it’s safe to do so, move the car to the shoulder of the road or out of the direct path of traffic. If the car is too damaged to move or if someone is severely injured, leave the car where it is.
2. Assess and Document the Scene
Call the Police and Get a Police Record of the Accident
Always call the police after an accident. They’ll be able to issue an accident report for both drivers to give provide to the insurance companies. They’ll also be able to issue a citation if one driver caused the accident by committing a traffic violation. Any citations issued after an accident will help insurance companies decide which party is at fault for the accident.
Get an Accident Report If There Is Injury
All states require an accident report to be put on record if anyone was killed or seriously injured. Most states require a police report if there’s property damage over a specific amount. The minimum amounts vary by state, but they’re usually between $200 and $1000.
Exchange Insurance Information With the Other Driver
After the accident, each party should produce their insurance information to exchange with the other party in the accident. You’ll need the other driver’s name, phone number, and address. Also, collect their insurance company name, policy number, and agent’s phone number if available.
Do Not Admit Fault
The most important thing to remember when exchanging information with the other driver is not to admit fault. That’s for the insurance companies to decide. Make sure the other driver and passengers are ok but try to limit your interaction after that.
Do Not Overshare Information or Allow Photos of Your ID
Also, do not share more information than necessary. Avoid conversations about your insurance limits, and don’t let the other driver take a picture of your driver’s license as it is sensitive information and can be used to commit fraud and other crimes. The officers will also take each driver’s license and insurance information once they get to the scene and make sure each driver gets a copy of what they need.
Get Contact Information From Witnesses if Possible
A witness is anyone who saw the accident, what led up to it, or both. Make sure to swap information with any witnesses to the accident. The insurance company can contact them for their testimony if there’s any dispute about the events that led to the accident.
Take Pictures and Notes of Your Car and the Other Driver’s Car
Taking photos is one of the most important steps after an accident. Not only does this preserve the scene and other details, but pictures will also capture any damage directly after the accident. If the parties are incapable of taking pictures due to injury, they can always return to the scene whenever they’re healthier or send a family member to take them instead.
Capture As Much of the Scene As Possible
When taking the pictures, zoom out and include as much of the scene as possible. Include signs, lights, and the flow of traffic if possible. Take pictures from various angles to show road and weather conditions.
Include Size References for Smaller Items or Damages
When taking pictures of smaller items, include a coin or a pen for reference. Include photos of the vehicles involved from several angles to gather as much of the damage as possible. Take pictures of injuries the drivers or passengers sustained because of the accident.
3. Make Your Way Home After Documenting the Scene and Speaking With a Police Officer
Call a Tow Truck or Drive Home
After the police arrive and take everyone’s information, all parties can leave the scene. If the cars are drivable, the owners can take them home and call their insurance company to report the claim. If the cars aren’t drivable, drivers should call a tow truck to take the cars to a body shop for evaluation.
Check If Your Insurance Policy Includes Towing Coverage
Most insurance companies include towing as part of their packages. Drivers with towing can reach out to their insurance company and request a tow as they report the accident. After their car is on the way to the body shop, the driver can call a cab or a friend to give them a ride home. Keep in mind that many insurance companies require a receipt of the tow for reimbursement, so be sure to get one from the tow company and include it in your claim when you file.
Write Down a Clear Account of the Accident
Jot down how the accident happened once you’re somewhere quiet with minimal interruptions. Record the events as soon as possible while the memory is still fresh. Include details about who was traveling in which direction. Note the weather conditions plus anything else you can remember.
Contact Your State’s Department of Motor Vehicles if Needed
The Department of Motor Vehicles requires drivers in all 50 states to report accidents resulting in severe injury or death to their office, and some states require drivers to report accidents resulting in a certain amount of property damage as well. Most of the time, the police report the accident to the DMV, but the driver should follow up. The driver has a small window of time to register the accident, and they could be held liable if the message doesn’t get to the DMV within that time limit.
4. Begin the Insurance Claims Process
Contact Your Insurance Company To Report the Accident
Each driver should contact their insurance company as soon as possible. If the car involved in the accident needs repairs, the insurance company can schedule a drop-off with their preferred body shop. If the driver needs a rental, the agent can arrange it with the driver.
File a Claim With Your Insurance Company
If your vehicle needs repairs or someone was injured, you’ll need to file a claim with your insurance company. The insurance company will need a few pieces of information to process the claim. Be prepared to give them the following details about the accident:
- The claims handler will need to know the make and model of the vehicle that was involved in the accident.
- They’ll need the date, time, and location of the accident.
- They’ll need to know who was driving the vehicle.
- They’ll need the insurance information and name of the other driver involved.
- They’ll also need the names and contact information of passengers, witnesses, or others involved in the crash.
File a Claim With the Other Driver’s Insurance Company
If the other driver was at fault for the accident, if you don’t have collision coverage, or if you don’t want to start a claim with your insurance company, call the other driver’s insurance company and file a claim with them. You’ll need the same information you would need if you called and filed a claim with your insurance company.
Prepare to Speak With Your Insurer and the Other Driver’s Insurer
After a claim has been initiated, each insurance company gathers all the pertinent information. They’ll then talk to each other and examine the evidence to decide who is at fault, who’s not, or whether both parties should share the blame for the accident.
5. Wait For Claims to Clear
Get Coverage for Your Claim
Once the claims process starts, the claims adjuster will set up the drop-off time with the body shop and inspect the vehicle. The adjuster and the shop technicians will determine if the body shop can fix the car or if it’s a total loss.
If the shop can fix it, the insurance company will pay the shop directly for the repair. If it can’t, they’ll send the driver a check for the car’s value at the time of the accident.
Some drivers will have to pay their deductible to start the claims process. If the driver isn’t at fault, the insurance company will send the deductible back to the driver via check.
Explore Your Options if Your Claim Is Denied
The first step to addressing a claim denial is to find out why. Insurance companies will usually send a letter outlining the details. Sometimes it’s an easy fix, like submitting missing photos or other documentation. If the insurance company denies the claim for a more substantial reason, drivers have some recourse to get their claim handled.
Drivers can file an appeal if they feel the insurance company denied their claim unjustly. They can check with their insurance company to find out the exact process. If the insurance company denies their appeal, the driver can hire a lawyer and pursue legal action.