You’ve Been in an Accident – What Now?

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D. Gilson is a writer and author of essays, poetry, and scholarship that explore the relationship between popular culture, literature, sexuality, and memoir. His latest book is Jesus Freak, with Will Stockton, part of Bloomsbury’s 33 1/3 Series. His other books include I Will Say This Exactly One Time and Crush. His first chapbook...

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore...

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UPDATED: Mar 13, 2020

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Car accidents happen.  Every single day.  For example, in 2009, more than 5.5 million auto accidents took place in the United States.  These are accidents that were reported to the police.  A full 28% of these crashes – 1.52 million – resulted in at least one injury.  And less than one percent of them – 30,797 – resulted in a death to at least one person.  That’s a nearly 10% decline from the year prior.

Now that we’ve gone over some of the sobering realities of car accidents, let’s focus our attention to what you should do if you’re involved in an accident.  Here is our ten point list of what you should do both before and after you’ve been involved in a car wreck.

  1. Plan for an accident by being prepared:  You should always have your insurance information, such a proof of insurance as required by state law in the glove compartment of your car.  Other items you think about having are a cellular phone (preferably with a camera), pen or pencil and paper so you can jot down notes or particulars, and if you don’t have a cellular phone with a camera, keep a disposable one on hand to document accidents.  Many insurance companies provide accident checklists and information forms to document those notes or particulars, if yours does, keep one there as well.
  2. Know your insurance coverage and policy details: Another part of planning ahead is knowing exactly your auto policy covers and does not cover. You should know beforehand if your policy covers things like towing your car if it is no longer operable or if you have rental car reimbursement. You don’t want things like this to surprise you after you’ve been in a wreck.
  3. Pull off the road: If your car is still operable, ensure you’re not blocking traffic in either direction – oncoming or in your line of path.  Remaining in the road can lead to further accidents. Turn on hazard lights, and if you have other visual markers, like emergency triangles, use them.  If the car cannot be moved, you and your passengers should stay in the car until assistance arrives.
  4. Triage/Check for injuries: Are you injured?  Are your passengers injured? No matter how minor those injuries may seem, they should be treated.  If you and your passengers are fine and it is a multi-car wreck,  how about the driver and passengers in the other vehicle?  Are they injured?
  5. Call 911:  Regardless of injuries, a call to 911 will connect you with emergency services that can dispatch the police or paramedics. Every state has different laws on what accidents the police will respond to – in some states, there must be injuries.
  6. Exchange information: Exchange insurance information with the driver of the other vehicle.  This includes the driver’s name, address, phone number, car make, model and year, VIN number, license plate number as well as the name of their insurance company and policy number.
  7. Were there other witnesses: if so, ensure you get names and phone numbers or other details on how you can contact them.  Ensure they also speak to the police when they arrive.
  8. Photography for further documentation: This is the reason we referenced a cellular phone with a camera or a disposable camera kept in the glove box. You should get photos of damage to both vehicles.
  9. Do not admit fault: When speaking to the police or to the other driver, it’s important to keep a cool, polite demeanor.  You should also not admit fault. Your insurance company will use the police report, information gathered from the other driver, and yourself in order to make a determination of fault. If you live in a no-fault insurance state, you should still refrain from admitting fault.
  10. Contact your insurer: Even if you do not intend on filing a claim, you should still contact your insurance company to discuss and report the accident. This isn’t the same as filing a claim, which could potentially raise your rates.  Rather, since your insurer represents you, they can assist in the event the other driver does not wish to file a claim with their insurer or is dishonest in their version of events.

With more than five and a half million car accidents taking place every year in the United States, chances are you’ll be in one at least once in your life.  Being prepared and taking the appropriate steps after an accident happens can make the stress of an auto accident easier to deal with.

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