1. Don’t Leave!Even if the accident seems minor, don’t flee the scene of the accident. This is illegal, and you could be cited for a misdemeanor hit-and-run even if you weren’t the cause of the crash. This misdemeanor will come with a large fine and potentially even jail time, and if someone has been injured in that accident, you may be charged with a felony.
If you see a car speed away from the scene, go full Sherlock Holmes and mentally jot down the vehicle’s make, model, and license plate number. With any luck, police will investigate and substantiate your claim of a hit-and-run.
2. If Possible, Park Off the RoadIf you’re not injured, and the accident is mild, signal to the other drivers to pull over to a safe area, away from traffic. This lowers the risk of additional car crashes from occurring in the same location. (People are nosy, ya know?)
However, if your vehicle cannot be driven safely, put on your hazards. If it’s dark out or visibility is low, consider setting up road flares or traffic cones, which should be in your emergency roadside kit.
3. Check for InjuriesFirst, visually inspect yourself for injuries. Adrenaline will undoubtedly be surging through your veins, so you may not feel pain. It’s important to actually look for signs of injury, including broken bones, bruises, blood, or vision impairments.
If you’re seriously injured, try not to move until emergency services are on the scene. Inform other parties with injuries to do the same. When the emergency crew arrives, let the paramedics know if you have absolutely any symptoms of a concussion or signs of an injury. Mild neck pain may become a more serious problem days or even weeks down the line. Some experts even recommend seeking medical attention no matter how you feel.
4. Call Law EnforcementPolice should always be called following a car collision, no matter the severity of the crash. Police accident reports are valuable in the insurance claims process, and should any lingering medical problems arise down the road, it’s in your best interest to have this on the record. If the accident is mild, file your accident report through your state’s DMV. (See Kansas’s Accident Reports portal.)
Once the police arrive, cooperate with their investigation fully. Provide all the details you can, never admit blame, and be courteous. Do not resort to name-calling, lying, or speculating as to who was at fault. The accident investigators and insurance claims adjusters will determine fault and compensation for you.
5. Get Driver & Witness InformationStay courteous and do not lose your temper! Humans make mistakes; this could be one of those. Instead, politely gather all the important details you’ll need when speaking to your auto insurance agent, including:
- Names of all drivers, passengers, and (if you’re lucky) witnesses
- Phone numbers
- License plate numbers
- Proof of registration
- Any dashcam footage (emailed to you)
- Vehicle details (all makes, models, VINs, and colors)
- Location of the crash, including cross streets and the direction in which all vehicles were traveling
- Insurance policy numbers
- Any injuries that may be sustained
- Any pertinent details that may be related to the crash (e.g. the driver ahead of you was swerving for several miles before suddenly braking)
- Police officer badge numbers
6. Take PhotosWhile you wait for the police, document the scene of the accident. Take pictures of all vehicles damaged in the collision, as well as any other property damage and debris left on the road. If you have injuries, take pictures of them (if possible).
7. Get Your Vehicle TowedIn some instances, your county’s preferred tow truck service provider will be called in to tow damaged vehicles to their facility—usually a junkyard-type location. If this is the case, you’ll need to know where your vehicle is being towed, how to get it back, and how much it will cost to store it each night. Oftentimes, you have a few days’ leeway before your insurance will stop paying for this storage.
If your vehicle isn’t totaled, you can request a tow to your preferred auto body shop or collision center. Inform the police if this is the case; they’ll inform you of your options and what steps you must take before and after you contact the auto collision center.
Once you speak with your preferred body shop, ask them if they offer any assistance in making insurance claims. Good collision centers will be the middleman for you in this regard, which should alleviate some stress.
8. Request Your Accident Report NumberOnce you’ve filed your police accident report, you’ll want to ask for the report. Many reports can be ordered online these days, though some old-school agencies still use paper documents. Request one or obtain the report number—you’ll need this when you go through the claims process.
9. Inform Your Auto Insurance CompanyAs soon as you’re able to, call your car insurance agent or make an insurance claim online or through the company’s smartphone app. Some policies even require you to contact them ASAP; if your car accident is minor and won’t require much bodywork, you may want to forego informing your insurance company. However, if there are any injuries at all, you should make a claim. Check your insurance policy card for more details, contact information, and any “medpay” coverage if you must seek additional medical help.
10. Make Phone CallsCall your family or any friends to help you calm down. Talking with someone you love or trust can be very therapeutic after a car crash. Additionally, if you were on your way to work or a meeting, contact the appropriate people to ensure they aren’t waiting on you.
11. Don’t Post on Social MediaWe live in strange times; instead of talking privately about a recent car accident with friends, we post our complaints and list of grievances on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Don’t do this!
Stay smart. Investigators and other parties involved in the crash may review your social media accounts for any signs of potential negligence on your part. Offhanded comments can absolutely be used to denigrate your character, thus making it that much more difficult to “win” your case and claim. Stick to the phone if you want to let your anger out; you’ve probably not being monitored on there.
And do not, under any circumstances, post or publish any photos about your injuries. If your injuries are severe, you should contact a lawyer, not the advice of your friends list.
Keep these 11 tips in mind if you’ve just gotten into a car crash, fender-bender, or been the victim of a hit-and-run collision. To stay organized amidst the chaos, I suggest keeping a physical folder of every piece of correspondence, paperwork, and invoice. Dealing with insurance is difficult as it is; why not make things a bit easier on yourself? What about you folks? Have any tips about dealing with a first-time car accident? I’d love to hear so I can add them to my Crash Course on Crashes list.