The National Highway Safety Transportation Association (NHTSA [PDF]) reported more than 5.419 million accidents in 2010, of which more than 1.5 million involved injuries and 30,000 resulted in fatalities.
It doesn’t matter if the car is one year old or 10 years old, nobody wants to see their car damaged in a wreck. Car crashes are really not the kind of thing you can be prepared for, which is why they’re called “accidents.” However, if you know how to respond, you might be slightly less stressed in the moments after a surprise impact.
First of All, Remain Calm and Stay Safe.
We know: that’s much easier said than done when you’re covered in spilled coffee or your radiator is spewing fluid all over the ground, but the most important thing you can do is remain calm. Turn on your hazard lights. You will have to decide whether you need to get out of moving traffic to reduce any additional danger or leave the car where it is to make a more accurate report. If you are near the side of the highway and feel you may create a safety risk if you remain in traffic, you may want to get out of the way; however, if you’re on a busy highway or on a residential road, it might be better to leave the situation as it is until the authorities arrive. (In some states it may be against the law to move the vehicle from the place where the accident occurred. Be sure you know the laws in your area.)
Turn off your engine, check for injuries, and then call 911; they will need to know your exact location and whether they need to send an ambulance. If you are trained in first aid, you may offer assistance. Just remember to never move someone who is badly hurt, unless you believe that moving them might prevent further injuries, such as in the case of fire.
If you are able to, and it is safe to get out and move around the car, you may want to set up orange cones, warning triangles, or emergency flares around the crash site. NEVER leave the scene of an accident unless a medical emergency requires you to do so.
Exchange Important Information and Take Photos
After the police have been called, and after everyone needing first aid (if there were any injuries) has been cared for, exchange contact and insurance information with the other parties involved. For each vehicle involved in the car accident, you need to ensure you have the first and last name and phone number of the driver; driver license number (check to ensure it is valid); information relating to their insurance carrier, phone number, and insurance policy number (check to ensure their coverage is current); as well as the make, model, year, and license plate of the vehicle they were driving. Don’t forget to get names and phone numbers of each person in each vehicle, and any witnesses who saw what happened. Make note of the date, time, and weather conditions.
Take pictures! You can use your cellphone's camera to grab shots of each driver’s insurance card and driver license, but make sure the photos are in focus before returning the documents. Experts suggest you snap pictures of and around the car accident scene before vehicles are moved, being certain to get photos of the damaged vehicles, their license plates, drivers/passengers, and any skidmarks or identifying road signs that are important. You might even want to draw a diagram to help you remember how the accident occurred. (It may seem as if these images are burned into your brain, but you’ll be surprised how easy it is to forget details in the days and weeks after the accident.) You’ll need these records to help you with reports and any conversations that may follow with the insurance companies.
Report the Incident
When the police arrive, help them fill out their own report. Be as accurate and truthful as possible, providing as much detail as you can remember about the incident. Do not discuss fault or make statements about the accident to anyone but the police. Be polite and courteous; you might be upset, but don’t blame or argue with the other people on the scene. You’ll also need to get a copy of the police report for your insurance, or in case you need to file any additional forms with your state’s department of motor vehicles. In some states, your driving privilege may be suspended if you do not complete a Report of Traffic Accident within the proper amount of time.
Call your insurance agent to make your own accident report. Even if the other driver accepts responsibility and promises to pay, it’s extremely important to notify your own insurance company as soon as possible so they have a record of all these important details; after all, the other party could change his mind.
Schedule an appointment to visit your doctor. You may not feel any pain at the time of the accident, but it’s best to visit your physician or chiropractor to check for any possible injuries that you may not be aware of.
Think It Might Be A Total Loss? Time to Shop For a New Car!
Your insurance company will require an evaluation of the damage to your vehicle to begin estimating the cost of repairs. If the cost of repairs is greater than a certain percentage of the vehicle’s actual cash value (different insurance companies have different formulas), the insurance company may choose to declare the car a total loss, and write you a check instead.
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