What To Do If You're In a Car Accident
If you're in a car accident, the guidelines below can help you through it.
Print these two forms and put them in your glove compartment:
- Another driver involved? Click here [WHN hot link TK] for a form
- No other drivers were involved (i.e., you hit a tree) - click here [WHN hot link TK] for a form.
WHN Tip: Accident Report
Local law enforcement officers may not respond to the accident unless there are injuries. In lieu of an accident/police report, file a state vehicle accident report at a local police station or your state's Department of Motor Vehicles Web site. A police report often helps insurance companies speed up the claims process. Legally you may only have a certain time frame in which to file the report - check with your local police department.
Click here [WHN hot link TK] for more helpful forms related to this topic and keep a copy of this page in your glove compartment.
Be safe, be smart.
- Stop your vehicle if it is clear, safe and legal and turn off the ignition.
- If you're uninjured, check on others.
- Report it immediately. Call 9-1-1 (or the police if 9-1-1 service is not an option) immediately. Provide the exact location (look at street signs, landmarks), number of vehicles and people involved and any details about injuries to anyone.
- No injuries? You should still call the police and report the accident.
- No cell phone? Ask a witness to make the call and provide you with his contact information in case it's needed later.
- DO NOT leave the scene. Remain onsite until the police arrive. Ask the other person(s), including witnesses, to do the same (medical emergencies notwithstanding).
- Leave as much of the scene intact as possible.
- Turn on hazard lights or use flares and other warning signs to alert other drivers to the accident.
- Get your license, insurance information and registration ready, if you can.
- Ask witnesses to remain on the scene until the police arrive.
WHN Tip: Be Alert
Keep safety in mind - traffic may not see you until it's too late.
Do not stand in front of a pulled-over car; it may be hit from the rear. Stay off the road and clear of any vehicles that are pulled over in case they are hit by other cars.
If You Need a Tow Truck
If your car looks to be inoperable or needs repairs, contact a towing service. Tell dispatcher where you are and where the car should be towed and ask for the cost.
When the tow truck driver arrives, get the following information:
- Name of company, driver, company address and telephone
- Tow truck license plate number
WHN Tip: Tow Truck
Don't know the name of the tow truck company or where your car was towed? The city or the police might work with certain companies - give the department a call to find out how to track down this information.
Gather Important Information
- List as many details as possible, including comments from witnesses or others involved in the incident, such as "I didn't see you." Also, be very careful with what you say. If the police arrive, this information will be included on their accident form packet.
- Ask witnesses for their contact information.
Witness #1 /Name/Phone/E-mail
Witness #2 /Name/Phone/E-mail
Witness #3 /Name/Phone/E-mail
Witness #4 /Name/Phone/E-mail
- If no officer is present or responding to the accident, use the form below to jot down contact details and accident information.
- Date and time
- Location: nearest intersection
- Weather conditions
- Road conditions (bumpy, potholes, road signs and signals)
- Vehicle damage
- Landmarks in the area that might help you later to determine where the vehicles came to rest.
Information for all vehicles involved
- Make, model, year
- License plate number and state, Vehicle Identification Number (VIN)
WHN Tip: If the other driver provides false contact info, having the car's license plate number makes it easier to track them down.
Information for other drivers involved
- Name, address, phone and/or e-mail
- Driver's license number and state
- Description (physical/other traits: i.e., intoxicated, aggressive, helpful)
- Insurance company, policy number, name of insured, agent's name (if they know it)
- Passenger(s): Name/Address/Phone, where they were seated in the vehicle.
WHN Tip: If the driver's name is different from the insured's name, find out the relationship between the two; get the name and address for both people.
Document the Accident Visually
- If you have a camera/camera phone/PDA in your car and it is accessible, begin taking pictures of the accident site before vehicles are moved (vehicles and any property they may have damaged, etc.).
WHN Expert Tip: "Take pictures of the car and of the scene itself," says Mannato. "Also, take a picture of the other car because claim reps will need to know the color and license plate of the other car so be sure to get the license plate of the other vehicle(s) involved." Your photos should show the overall context of the accident so that you can make your case to a claims adjuster.
- Use a camera or camera phone to take photos that show the overall context of the accident. (Borrow one if necessary or ask the owner to take pictures, and get his contact information so you can obtain copies.) Alternatively, sketch the accident site.
- Include streets, traffic signs, obstacles in the road—anything that provides details of the accident—as well as landmarks that identify where you stopped.
- Show all directions of travel and lane directions (one ways, etc.)
- Photograph your vehicle from several angles to document the damage. Don't take the time to consider noteworthiness. You may not be able to see the importance of, a broken tail light for instance, but it could help a professional reconstruct the accident
- Any other important details that you think might be of use to you or the insurance company.
WHN Tip: Continue to take photographs throughout this process.
WHN Expert Tip: Go Digital
A digital camera is the most accurate as it has the date on its photos and documents when they were taken. A photo can also show the weather and possibly road conditions as well as if the accident took place during the day or nighttime hours. This would be relevant if any of these factored into the cause of the accident.
"A traditional camera is still good to use as it can show the exact location of the accident as well as the other factors mentioned above." Dave Mannato, Matador Insurance Agency, Latham, NY
"Keep copies [of your photos] for your records," says Mannato. "You may need them should some get lost, to show to a lawyer [or an insurance agent] or if the case goes to trial one day."
Cooperate With the Authorities
- Once the authorities or medical personnel arrive on the scene, note the name and badge number of those providing assistance. (Note: Some officers carry business cards.)
- Ask police when you can obtain a copy of the accident report.
WHN Tip: Citations
The police may not say who was at fault - that may be left to the insurance company. The police may however write citations for either driver. A citation could be written for running a red light, speeding, inattention, careless driving, no proof of insurance and so forth. The citations may vary depending on the state and county laws.
- If an ambulance responds, get examined even if you think you are okay.
- No ambulance? Seek medical treatment on your own.
WHN Tip: Refusing treatment after an accident can be used as evidence that you were not really hurt. Keep in mind that you may feel worse in the days and weeks following the incident.
After the Accident: Medical Care
- After the accident you may be injured or experience some pain a few days after the accident.
- See your physician for an examination. Provide details about the accident: what happened and how you felt afterwards (even minor physical problems).
Read Medical Treatment After an Accident for some helpful tips on what type of care to expect on the scene of the accident and how to manage doctor visits after the accident.
Insurance Claims Process
- Create an accident file to store all receipts and documentation related to the accident: copies of police reports, medical visits, repair receipts, photos and so on. Include the details you gathered at the scene and contact information for all witnesses. These will be important for insurance claim purposes and when you file your taxes.
- Make copies of all documents and photos. Don't give out your last copy!
- Call your car insurance agent to file a claim and to arrange for an adjuster to view your car.
- Ask where you should take your vehicle for damage estimate and if the policy covers a rental vehicle.
Read our After an Accident: Insurance Claims article for top tips on what to expect and how to manage through the claims process.
- Read After an Accident: Insurance Claims for possible options that may be available. (Each state has different rules about car insurance. Click here for a list of state requirements from Findlaw.)
Consider hiring a lawyer if needed.
The information provided here is not meant to be a substitute for professional legal or medical advice. These tips are from first responders, lawyers, insurance agents and people who have shared real-life advice; always check with a doctor or appropriate professional you trust before making any legal or health-related decisions.
Thank you ...
A special thank you to the industry professionals, lawyers, insurance agents, first responders and people who gave us their time, insight and real-life advice.
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