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Accidents Happen - What To Do After a Car Accident

Most drivers will witness or be involved in an auto accident in their lifetime. According to Driver Knowledge, there are an average of 6 million car accidents in the U.S. every year. Prepare yourself by knowing what to do after a car accident. Preparation can be the difference between handling the situation as calmly and effectively as possible or making the problem worse for everyone involved.

Stay Calm After A Car Accident

As hard as it may be - the first thing you should remind yourself of after a car accident is to remain calm. Heightened emotions are likely to create more problems in what is already a scary situation. Being in a car accident is a bad experience for everyone, no matter how minor the accident may be. Take a deep breath and try to keep a level head. Try to work cooperatively with the other people at the scene to avoid chaos and confusion. That said, do not admit fault or act apologetic in an accident situation. Allow your local authorities to make the judgment on who is at fault.

Never leave the scene of an accident. In many cases, this can be considered to be a crime in itself. Leaving the scene of an accident could result in charges, fines, a suspended license, or even jail time. If someone at the scene of the car accident is making you feel like you are not safe staying there, call the police immediately. Explain to them that you are leaving, why you are leaving, and that you will return as soon as emergency personnel is present.

Assess Yourself and Your Passengers

If you are severely injured after a car accident, stay still and remain calm. If there is no danger in doing so, try not to move while waiting for emergency personnel to arrive on the scene. If you are confident that you have no injuries, you can help assess your passengers and any others involved in the accident. Anyone with neck or back pain should keep as still as possible while waiting for medical help. Paramedics have the education and experience to know how to properly move injured passengers without causing further damage. Let your local emergency professionals work with any injured parties.

Be mindful of the fact that some injuries may not become apparent until later on. Do not immediately assume that you are free from injury just because you feel okay at the moment. Adrenaline from the crash could be inhibiting your ability to realize that you have an injury. Or, you may have a musculoskeletal injury that may take a few days to present itself. Keep notes over the following weeks of any changes to your body, or new aches or pains. Even if you don't believe you are injured, it may be a good idea to get assessed by your doctor after a car accident.

Assess the Scene of the Car Accident

If you have finished assessing the people involved in the accident and no one is seriously injured, move off of the road to safety. Warn oncoming traffic of the crash by turning on your car's hazard lights if they are working. Place cones around the crash site if you have them with you. Avoid further complications with traffic by moving crashed vehicles off the road as soon as you are safely able to. This may not be possible, depending on the severity of the crash.

Be sure to pay attention to any structures that may have been hit in the accident. This may include telephone poles, fences, or road signs. Take note of your surroundings: do you notice anything unusual, such as the smell of smoke? If so, let emergency responders know and get to a safe area away from the crash site.

Call for Assistance

If it is immediately obvious that assistance is needed by a first responder after the car accident, call right away. You may need an ambulance, a fire truck, the police - or all three. Never assume that someone has called for help. You don't want there to be any delay, especially if there are injuries, so call as soon as you are able to. Stay calm while talking to the operator and provide as much information as you can. Do not hang up with the operator until the operator tells you it is okay to hang up. You may need to call the police even if the accident was insignificant. Ensure you know the local laws in the state you are driving in. Even minor accidents with no injuries or significant damage are required to be assessed by a police officer in some states.

Document the Accident

After a car accident, you want to be sure to document everything. You will not be able to go back to this moment (not that you will want to), so make sure you write down everything. It may be a good idea to keep a notepad and a pen handy in your glove box in case an accident occurs. Do not expect yourself to be able to remember the small details later on.

What Information to Get From Others After the Accident

Make sure you get as much information as you can about the other parties involved in the crash, including their:

  • Name
  • Contact Information
  • Insurance company and policy number
  • Driver's license and plate number
  • Vehicle details (model, make, color, year)

Be sure to note down as much information as you can about the car accident itself. Information that may not feel relevant at the moment may be important in the future. Some things to think about documenting may include:

  • Exact location of the accident
  • Names and badge numbers of the attending police officers
  • Ask for a copy of the accident report
  • Names and contact information for anyone who witnessed the car accident
  • What you remember about the events that led up to the accident
  • The road conditions at the time (twenty-four percent of weather-related vehicle crashes occur on snowy, slushy or icy roads). This information will be beneficial to have in the future when it comes time to file insurance claims for your car. Plus, if it turns out you do have an injury, you will want as much information as possible.

Take Pictures of the Vehicle Damage if you are Able

If the situation is appropriate to do so and you are not conflicting with traffic or the efforts of emergency responders, it’s a good idea to photograph the damage to your vehicle and the vehicles of the other involved parties.

Check over your vehicle to assess all the visible damage. Take time-stamped photos with your smartphone to be sure you don't miss or forget anything. In addition, be sure to get photos of the car from various angles. Some car accident damage may be more visible from certain angles and completely hidden in others. If the other driver is okay with it, take photos of their vehicle as well. These can be useful as you work through the claims process with your insurance.

Stay Calm and Remember This Guide

Being in a car accident can make even the most organized person become frazzled. Car accidents are high stakes, high emotion moments. The moment can turn into chaos quickly if someone does not take proper control of the situation.

If you find yourself in an accident, be sure to take a deep breath and remember to follow this guideline. Being a strong leader in an emotional situation like a car accident can help to keep the situation under control.