Stay calm. Now is not the time to lose your cool. Keep your wits about yourself.
Safety is your top priority. Your first priority is to maintain the safety of everyone involved in the accident and to take actions to prevent more smash-ups and injuries. If the accident is minor and the cars are still functioning, move them off or to the side of the road.
If the cars aren’t going anywhere without a tow truck, turn on your hazard lights, exit the vehicle when it’s safe to do so, and walk to the side of the road and out of traffic. Ideally, you should have a warning triangle or flares in your car’s emergency kit. Place those on the road to give other drivers a heads up on the accident. You don’t want another car plowing into your pile-up.
Check for injuries. Ask everyone who was in the car with you if they’re okay. Then check on the driver and passengers of the other car. Call 911 for an ambulance if needed.
Call the police. After an accident, the other person involved might suggest not calling the police and settling things between just the two of you. Ignore him and call the police, even if it’s just a minor fender bender. Here’s why:
By law, you may be required to call the police. In most states, you’re only required to call the authorities after a car accident if someone has been injured, the accident is blocking traffic, or property damage (including cars) is above a certain monetary amount. Failure to comply with the law could result in an additional fine, so don’t try to judge for yourself if those requirements have been met. Let the police dispatcher decide that. After you’ve described the accident to the dispatch, they may or may not decide to send officers to the scene. If they don’t, they’ll usually tell you to file an accident report at a station or online.
A police report can help establish liability. The insurance companies of the respective drivers will work together to determine fault. One of the most credible documents the insurers will use in doing so is an official police report. Without a report, figuring out liability becomes an issue of he said/she said. If you were the one hit, you definitely want a police report. I know a few instances where people didn’t call the police after an accident, and ultimately regretted not doing so. Those involved exchanged information, but when the drivers who were hit called the offending drivers’ insurance companies to make a claim, the offending drivers denied the whole thing and accused the victim drivers of insurance fraud. That wouldn’t have happened with a police report.
Even if you are responsible for the accident, you should still call the police. It could be the case that the driver you hit contributed to the accident and shares responsibility, or there may have been factors beyond your control that reduce your responsibility. If you don’t want to be held completely liable for the accident and have your insurance rates jacked up, get that information in an official police report.
Even if the police don’t come, file a report as soon as you can. At least you’ll have your side of the story on record. That can help in the insurance claim.
A police report can protect you from fraud. You come to a red light and roll to a stop behind a car. The light turns green and as the car in front of you begins driving forward, so do you. All of sudden, the car in front of you immediately stops, causing you to rear-end the other driver. While it’s certainly possible the driver in front of you had a good reason to stop, it’s also possible that he’s a fraudster pulling the old “start and stop” auto-insurance scam on you.
Individuals who stage accidents in order to fraudulently collect insurance money will often suggest not calling the police and just exchanging information. But even if the accident is minor, call the police. Officers are trained at detecting staged accidents. Having them at the scene can help expose the fraud so you’re not held liable for what happened.
Having the police on the scene can keep everyone calm and collected. Emotions can run high at an accident. Having the police there to act as an impartial referee can ensure that things don’t get too heated.
Bottom line: call the police no matter what. If the accident is a minor one, don’t call 911, just call the police directly (you might want to program this number into your phone).
Before the officer leaves, get his name and badge number
Exchange information with the other driver. You’ll want to exchange the following information with the other driver:
- Telephone number
- Driver’s license number
- Insurance company
- Policy number
You don’t need a Social Security Number in order to file a police report or claim. If a driver or even the police ask for it, politely, but firmly say, “You don’t need that information in order to file a claim/report.”
You should always have a pen and notebook in your car, so you can write down the details we mention above and below. Alternatively, many insurance companies now offer extremely useful apps that not only allow you to record the details of the accident, but also have features which help you “draw” the scene of the accident, take photos, collect witness observations, jot down notes, and file a claim.
Write down the information about the car accident. After you’ve exchanged information with the other driver, write down the following information about the accident itself:
- Location of accident (It also doesn’t hurt to draw a rough sketch of how you think the accident went down)
- Description of other car, including: make, model, year, color, license plate number, and any visible damage
- Description of individuals involved in accident, including passengers
Take plenty of pictures. Use the camera on your cellphone to document the vehicle damage. The more pictures the better. Keep in mind that you want your photos to show the overall context of the accident so that you can make your case to a claims adjuster. Take pictures from a distance to show the accident in its entirety, as well as pictures up close to show property damage. If there are any skid marks, take pictures of those too. If you think you were responsible for the accident, take pictures of the car you hit from the rear, front, and sides. That way, if the driver accuses you of causing damage to his car that existed prior to the accident, you’ll be able to prove he’s lying.
Get witness information. If there are witnesses, try to get their information including their name, address, and phone number. Their observations can help your case in assigning liability.
Don’t admit fault or assign blame. Even if it’s obvious whose fault the accident was, don’t ever admit fault or assign blame. That’s for the police and insurance companies to figure out. While it may pain your inner-gentleman (and Louis C.K.) to do so, don’t say “I’m sorry.” It’s an admission of fault. As soon as you exchange information with the driver and find out he or she is okay, zip your lip and keep discussion to a minimum. You don’t want to say anything that could be used against you during the insurance claims process or police report. The only people you want to talk to about the accident are the police and your insurance company.
Call your insurance company. Regardless of fault, call your insurance company and report the accident as soon as possible. If it is your fault, your policy likely requires that you do so. Calling your insurer to report the accident also ensures you get your side of the story on record before the other driver files a claim. That can put you at an advantage in reducing the amount the other driver claims.