By some estimates, you’ll have about three or four car accidents in your driving career. So it’s inevitable that you’ll have to know what to do when—not if—you have a wreck while driving. Here are 10 tips for dealing with a car wreck.
1) Stay calm. Even in the worst situation, panic never helps. If you’re involved in a car wreck, chances are you’ll be pretty upset after the initial shock wears off. Take a moment to check yourself for injury, and take a few more to calm yourself down. You might be tempted to pop out of the car and start telling the other driver exactly what you think of his driving, but that won’t help your situation and, in fact, may make it worse. When dealing with the other driver(s) involved, stay calm. If you find you cannot keep your cool, just let everyone involved know that you need to sit down until the police arrive.
2) Make sure everyone is okay. Even after a minor accident, take a moment to ensure everyone involved is okay and that no one needs an ambulance. If you are injured, make it clear to someone on the scene that you need medical attention.
3) Call for help. As soon as possible after the wreck, call 9-1-1 or have someone on the scene do so if you are incapable of making the call yourself. If the accident involves only property damage, only the police need to be summoned. If any of the other drivers are injured or if any of the vehicles involved is smoking or on fire, a call to the fire department is definitely in order.
4) Do not admit fault—even if you’re at fault. It might be tempting to admit that you were in the wrong when a car wreck occurs, and perhaps you are at fault, but it’s best to let the insurance companies work it out. Fault in a car accident is a legal finding, and there are a lot of reasons that, even if it looks entirely like you caused the accident, you might not be found legally at fault for the crash. Even if the other driver is angrily accusing you of causing the accident, admit nothing and let him or her know that you’d prefer to let the insurance companies figure it out.
5) Don’t leave the scene. In almost every instance, leaving the scene of an accident without explicit permission from a police officer is considered a crime. Until you are specifically cleared to leave the scene, stick around and be cooperative.
6) Exchange information. Make sure you get—and give—all of the information of the driver(s) involved in the wreck. Get names, telephone numbers, insurance information, and tag numbers of the cars involved. A police-issued accident report will have everything needed to file a claim.
7) Get a police report. Because you want an official record of the accident—including all of the required information for a claim—it’s best to get a police report at the scene. In court, the documentation of a police officer will be invaluable.
8) Call your insurance company. Call your agent to report the accident as soon as you are able. Accidents maybe reported 24 hours a day 365 days a year. Many insurance policies have a window in which you may report an accident, and reporting after that window could result in a denied claim. Delay can be costly!
9) Take pictures or video of the scene. Pictures, as the saying goes, say 1,000 words, and the proliferation of smart phones makes it pretty easy to take photos of an accident scene. If you’re taking pictures of the scene, be friendly about it and let the other driver(s) know you’re just gathering information for your insurance company.
10) Get contact information for witnesses. If there are people standing around the scene, ask them if they saw what happened. Anyone who says they witnessed the accident should be approached in a calm and friendly fashion and asked for their contact information. Be sure to identify witnesses to the police officer(s) responding to the scene.
Please drive safely, and remember: accidents happen. Be prepared!