Car accidents can be both frightening and disorienting. Keeping a few important things in mind can help reduce your stress, keep you safe after the crash and make any ensuing insurance claims less of a headache.
Check for injury
Move your vehicle out of traffic
Document the accident
Calling the Police
Do NOT take any quick-fix offers
Call your insurance provider soon as possible
Check with your insurer about repairs
Ask for preferred auto shops
Check the repair paperwork
Perform a post-repair check-up
Compare your insurance rates post-crash
Regardless of who is at fault in a collision, your first concern must be physical safety. If your car is on fire or smoking, get out as quickly as you can, preferably through a door nearest the shoulder or sidewalk. If your accident occurred on the highway or your car is in the middle of a busy street, make sure you look before exiting your vehicle to make sure it is safe.
If staying in your car does not pose any further risk, put your hazard lights on and stay put until you’ve determined you are not badly hurt. Use your hands to feel your head, torso, arms and legs. If you are injured, you might not be able to tell any other way. Even with serious injury, you may not feel pain because your body may be in shock. If you or anyone else is significantly injured, call 9-1-1 immediately.
If it is safe to do so, move your car out of the flow of traffic — this can help prevent further collisions, particularly if you have crashed on a busy street or highway. Many drivers incorrectly assume they should never move their vehicle post-crash until the police arrive, to help determine fault. However, safety is always the first priority, so sometimes this “rule” does not apply. Leave your hazard lights on and exit the vehicle only when safe to do so.
Try not to get too flustered over the damage. Remain calm and document the scene of the crash by taking as many notes as you can. Get the other driver’s license plate as soon as you can in case they try to take off. You will also want to write down the time of the collision, the location, how it happened, the identification of the vehicle(s) and people involved, as well as the names and badges of any emergency personnel that come to the scene. If possible, take clear pictures of the damage.
As mentioned already, if anyone is seriously injured call 9-1-1 immediately. Even if injuries are minor, and the damage is significant, you should still call 9-1-1 right away. In case of an accident where no one is injured and the damage is fairly minor (under $1,000 combined) you can contact local police via their non-emergency collision line.
Exchange information including the name, addresses and insurance details from anyone involved in the accident. If police are called, obtain a driver information exchange form from the officer on the scene. If possible, it is a good idea to collect names, addresses and phone numbers from any witnesses to the crash – their statements could come in handy in court if necessary.
In the heat of the moment, the other driver(s) involved may offer a seemingly easy way out — to avoid the insurance company altogether. That often leads to even more trouble. As a general rule of thumb, do not accept money, do not accept fault and do not agree to forget about the incident. Accepting any money or fault on the scene can affect the coverage your insurance company will provide for the incident. Also be wary of any drivers who show up and ‘know a place to have your car towed’.
It is a good idea to let your insurance provider know about an accident even in cases where the damage is minimal and no one is injured. If the other party reports the accident or makes a claim your provider is likely going to find out. It’s better if they hear about the crash from you. Your provider can also guide you through the claims process. Talk to your insurance agent or broker when you are buying your insurance policy, many providers have first accident forgiveness meaning that your rates will not increase after your first claim. If you’re late contacting your insurer, you may also have trouble processing the claim.
Before making any repair arrangements at the auto shop, first be sure your insurance company has actually agreed to pay for your claim. You don’t want to get stuck with hefty repair bills when it’s unnecessary.
If you don’t have a regular auto shop (or one that specifically handles the repairs required on your car), make sure to ask your insurance company for a “preferred” list of repair shops in your area. Some insurance companies may have systems already set up with specific auto shops to help speed up the claim process and repair your car even faster and more effectively.
Get an official receipt from the repair shop that details all the work they completed. Make sure that the name and address of the shop itself is accurate, as you may need to submit this information with your insurance claim.
When picking up your just-repaired car from the garage, perform a close inspection of all the repairs. You should do so at the shop and once more when you’ve returned home to make sure you are satisfied with the work. Check for any noticeable imperfections in paint, fit and finish on the exterior or interior (depending on where the damage was). If you notice any issues with the repair, call your insurer and find out how they handle supplemental repairs.
How your insurance rate will be affected after a collision can vary greatly depending on the circumstances of the accident and who your insurer is. Double-check how the crash will impact your rates, and compare quotes with other auto insurance companies to see how an at-fault, partially at-fault, or not-at-fault accident would affect your premiums if you switched providers.