No one is at their best in the aftermath of an accident. Even a minor fender-bender can leave you irritated, stressed out, shaken up and possibly injured. You can relieve some of the pressure in this unhappy environment by having a prepared checklist for what to do.
Here’s a step-by-step guide to help ensure that you’re protected.
7 things to do after you’ve been in an accident
- _ Call 911 if anyone is seriously injured. If not, call a non-emergency number for police or highway patrol.
- _ Move your car safely out of traffic (if possible)
- _ Exchange contact and insurance information with the other drivers
- _ Gather information from the accident scene – take photos, talk to witnesses, draw a sketch
- _ Get the investigating officer’s contact information (if available)
- _ Notify your independent insurance agent
- _ Ask for a copy of the police report (if available)
Understand why every step in the process matters
Your response to an accident is much more than a series of formalities. It could affect the outcome of your insurance claim.
Step 1 and Step 2 – Immediate safety
If you or anyone else needs medical assistance, call 911 as soon as possible. On the other hand, a minor accident with no serious injuries might not warrant a police response.
If your car isn’t seriously damaged and there are no injuries, moving it to the side of the road or the emergency lane can help prevent gridlock and reduce the chances of another accident. In fact, a number of states have “steer it and clear it” laws that require drivers to get their cars out of the way of traffic after a fender-bender. One example is Michigan, where the state Department of Transportation says that “if a driver moves their vehicle in accordance with the law, it is not evidence of fault in the crash.”
Because police may not respond to every single fender-bender, your information-gathering on the scene could prove vital.
Steps 3-5 – Information gathering
Information about the accident and the drivers involved will play an integral part in the claims process. Get the name of their insurance company, policy number, their contact information, driver’s license and license plate number, and the year, make and model of their car. Describe all damages and injuries.
You can help provide additional documentation, such as taking photos of the cars involved, gathering names and contact information for witnesses or sketching an overhead view of the accident scene.
It is important that you don’t discuss the accident, sign documents or try to assign blame or accept blame when talking to people on the scene. Let the police and the insurance companies do their jobs.
Step 6 — Insurance notification
Getting the incident on the record by notifying your insurance company in addition to law enforcement helps protect your interests, both financially and from a standpoint of liability.
In the case of a fender-bender, drivers should resist any temptation to handle it “off the books” without getting their insurance companies involved. What might seem at first like cosmetic damage could turn into major repairs, and the other driver could always have a change of heart about compensating you through an informal agreement.
Share all the information you have with your insurance agent and ask if there’s anything you might have overlooked.
Step 7 — Documentation
Make sure you know the exact procedure for getting a copy of the police report, which may differ from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. If police don’t respond to the accident, find out how you can file a report yourself.
Keep the checklist handy in case trouble strikes
Preparing ahead of time beats feeling panicked in the moment. Print a copy of this auto accident checklist and keep it in your glove compartment with your insurance card and vehicle registration.
It will be there if you need it, but here’s hoping you won’t.