What to do after a car accident: a 7-step guide

Stay calm, stay safe and gather the information you need to file a claim.

It’s estimated that 6.7 million car accidents occur in the United States each year. Being involved in an accident, even a small one, can be a stressful experience, so it’s important to know what steps to take in the aftermath. The process of dealing with a car accident begins at the scene and ensures the safety of all involved. Hopefully, you will never be involved in a car accident, but if you are, this guide can help you know what to do next.

What to do after a car accident: a 7-step guide
What to do after a car accident: a 7-step guide

Key Takeaways:

  • Nearly 7 million car accidents occur each year in the United States.
  • The purpose of auto insurance is to protect you financially in the event you are involved in an accident.
  • Immediately after an accident, experts recommend that you check to see if anyone was injured, then try to get your car off the road and out of traffic.

1. Stay calm

Keeping a cool head will make dealing with the accident and its aftermath much easier.

2. Check if anyone was injured

Check yourself and the passengers in your car for any obvious injuries. If someone is injured, either in your car or in another car involved in the accident, call 911 or ask someone else to do so. If you are seriously injured, try not to move until someone can help you.

3. Pull your car to the side of the road

According to the Insurance Information Institute (III), you should clear the road if possible. If you can, park your car on the shoulder of the road so it won’t get in the way of approaching vehicles. If the accident happens at night, turn on the hazard lights on your car so that other cars can see you. If you can’t move your vehicle, take yourself and anyone else involved in the accident to a safe location away from the road.

4 Check both vehicles for damage

If you are not injured and you are able to assess the damage to your vehicle, then take the time to do so. Try to take photographs showing the location of the unmoved vehicles and the damage to each vehicle. If it is not possible to take photos, consider drawing a diagram to show how the accident occurred while it is still fresh in your memory.

5 Report the accident to law enforcement

If the accident is serious, the Third Form recommends that law enforcement officers be called to the scene. The police can produce an accident report, and you can request a copy for insurance purposes.

6 Exchange information with other drivers

State law varies on the information you need to exchange with another driver after an accident. At a minimum, you will need to exchange names and insurance information. But you can also try to get other useful information, including:

  • The phone number of the other driver
  • The make and model of the other driver’s vehicle
  • The name and contact information of anyone who witnessed the accident
  • The name, badge number and phone number of any law enforcement officers responding to the accident scene

7 Deciding whether to file an insurance claim

The purpose of auto insurance is to protect you financially in the event you are involved in an accident. Unless you live in New Hampshire, you must have minimum bodily injury and property damage liability coverage. Both of these policies are designed to compensate another driver or their passengers if you are at fault in an accident.

Your policy is collision coverage will compensate you for damage to your car medical payment coverage OR bodily injury coverage, if you have either one, can help you pay for any injuries. Your regular health insurance will also help.

The reasonableness of filing a claim depends on:

  • Who is at fault
  • The extent of damage to each driver’s vehicle
  • Whether there were minor or serious injuries that occurred
  • What type and amount of insurance do you have
  • What the other driver’s insurance coverage is

If you plan to file a claim, contact your insurance company as soon as possible after the accident. Each insurance company has its own claims process and list of information you need to provide. It would help if you were prepared to provide any documents you have, including copies of police reports, photographs and information about the other driver. Your insurance company will arrange for an adjuster. The officer will assess any damages or injuries to determine how much the insurance company will pay out in compensation.

What NOT to do after a car accident

It is important to know what to do after a car accident, but it is also important to know what not to do.

If you are involved in an accident, here are some of the biggest mistakes to avoid.

  • Do not flee the scene. Leaving the scene of an accident can lead to criminal charges.
  • Do not admit guilt. When exchanging information with other drivers, take care to avoid making statements that could be interpreted as you pleading guilty.
  • Don’t blame others. You should also avoid blaming other drivers or accusing them of causing the accident. This is an issue for the police and your respective insurance companies to resolve.
  • Do not speak to an adjuster unprepared. After the accident, the insurance company or the other driver’s insurance adjuster may come forward and ask you for a claim.
  • Do not talk to the adjuster without considering how this may affect any personal injury claims that may be related to the accident.

Finally, don’t forget to check your auto insurance premiums after an accident claim is settled. It is possible that your insurance premiums will increase, although there is no guarantee. If your rates do go up after an accident, you may want to compare coverage from other companies to see if you can find a better deal.

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