If you’ve ever been in a car accident, you know how stressful (and scary) it can be. It is important to keep a level head and know exactly what to do in advance. Here are the steps you should take if you are in a car accident:

  • Move your car to a safe area (if possible) and exit the vehicle: It is very important to stay on the scene of an accident because the consequences of a hit and run can be severe. If you can, move your car out of the way of other traffic. The shoulder of the road is a good place to go. If there is no safe place to get out of the way (or if your vehicle is too damaged to move), turn on your hazard lights and stay put. If you can safely get out of your car and you aren’t injured, exit the vehicle.
  • Check on the people in the other car(s): It’s tempting to check on the damage to your vehicle right away, but go and check on the drivers and passengers in the other vehicle(s) first. People are more important than cars, and if someone else is injured, you need to be able to call an ambulance immediately.
  • Call for reinforcements: After you have checked on the other parties involved, you first need to call an ambulance to the scene if anyone is injured, and call the police to the scene regardless, unless you can confirm that someone else has already done so. If someone comes to you claiming that they are an eyewitness to the accident, ask them to stay until the police arrive, and be sure that you get their contact information. The police will file a report for you or instruct you to fill out an accident report to submit at the DMV. Cooperate fully with the authorities, but try not to admit or assign blame for the accident. Keep in mind that if your accident occurs on private property (the parking lot of a business, for example), the police may not come unless there is an injury. In that case, skip directly to the next step.
  • Gather information and document the scene: Now is the time to assess the full damage to your vehicle and exchange information with the other involved parties for your insurance claim. You will need to obtain the following information: 
    • Names of drivers and passengers of the other vehicle(s)
    • License plate numbers, makes, and models for all vehicles involved
    • Insurance information for all other vehicles (insurance company name and contact information, insurance policy numbers)
    • Contact information for any eyewitnesses
    • Accident location
    • Information for any responding police officers (name and badge number)
    • Photos of the following: the scene of the accident, the damage to your car, and the damage to any other vehicles involved

The other involved parties should also be gathering this information, so be sure to provide them with your insurance information as well.

  • File an insurance claim: Once you have gathered all the information that you need and the police have finished filling out their report, contact your insurance company (your insurance company, not theirs) as soon as reasonably possible. You can stay at or close to the scene and do this if it is safe to do so and if it will not impede traffic, or you can do this as soon as you get to a location where you can sit and talk to an insurance agent for 5-10 minutes. You will need all of your insurance policy information and the information that you gathered at the scene of the accident. Your insurance company will look up your policy and ask you questions about the accident and the other parties involved. When they are finished, they will give you next steps (if any) and possibly help you set up repairs for your vehicle. Your insurance company will then get in contact with the insurance companies of the other vehicles involved and determine which company will pay for what damage. If you are determined to be at fault (or partially at fault) for the accident, your monthly insurance payment will likely go up in the future.

Car accidents are stressful events, but if you know all the correct steps to take, it should be a fairly smooth process to get your car back on the road.