Car accidents are a stressful situation whether you’re at-fault or an innocent passenger.
Speaking from personal experience, countless thoughts suddenly rush through your head when you feel the collision. First, make sure everyone is all right and call 911. Then record the details of the accident and call your insurance company when things are more settled.
To avoid panic and making mistakes, here’s a handy guide of what to do after a car accident to stay calm, cool, and collected.
Table of Contents
- Call First Responders
- Exchange Insurance Information
- Take Pictures of the Accident Scene
- File an Insurance Claim
- Know Auto Insurance Coverage Amounts
- Have a Vehicle Inspection
- Consider Hiring an Attorney
- How Does Accident Forgiveness Work?
- How Long Does a Car Accident Stay on Record?
- Compare Car Insurance Rates
Call First Responders
First things first, make sure everyone involved in the accident is okay. Immediately ask the passengers in your vehicle and the other vehicle(s) if they are injured.
There will be plenty of time later to determine what happened and if anyone is at fault.
Take the time to evaluate the damage to the vehicles so the proper first responders can come.
Call 911 whether anyone needs medical attention or simply to report the accident. A police officer will come out to evaluate the situation and complete a police report.
If you are hearing impaired or cannot talk, you may also be able to text 911. Dialing 911 has faster response times.
For minor accidents without injuries, some megacities may only have you swap driver’s license and car insurance information with another driver. Then, you call a non-emergency number to report the incident to authorities or the car insurance provider to start the claims process.
Exchange Insurance Information
Swap the following details with the other driver:
- Phone number
- Driver’s license information
- Car insurance information (i.e., provider and policy number)
- Vehicle information (make, model, color and license plate number)
Also, get the license plate number and vehicle identification number (VIN). The VIN will be on the proof of insurance paper.
If there are any eyewitnesses, see if you can get their contact information too.
You will need the other driver’s contact and vehicle information to file an insurance claim.
Most importantly, never admit guilt – even if you’re at fault.
The police report assesses fault to the proper driver. Prematurely admitting guilt can complicate the investigation process if the investigating police officer comes to a different conclusion.
In “no-fault states,” both involved parties may share the blame for minor incidents.
Also, always be kind and professional to the other drivers and the police officer. You may see them at a future court date where the officer and driver have the chance to recall the incident.
For example, I was at-fault for a minor collision as a teen driver. As a teen, I had a court appearance and the other driver decided to show up as a witness if I decided to challenge the police report. I admitted guilt yet the other driver still said a few kind words to the judge.
In a nutshell, be honest yet kind.
What About a Hit and Run Car Accident?
Unfortunately, hit and run car accidents are too common. If possible, try to get a description of the vehicle and driver. A license plate number can be extremely valuable.
Don’t try to follow the other driver if your car is safe to operate. Adrenaline and road rage can put you at risk of another accident, injury – or worse.
Remember as many details as possible so you can file a police report. Your insurance company may require a copy of the police report to process your claim.
Take Pictures of the Accident Scene
After reporting the accident to 911, take a few minutes to safely take pictures of the accident scene with your smartphone.
If you’re on a busy road, you may have to relocate to an accident investigation site, road shoulder, or a parking lot to complete the investigation.
Write down a few notes on your phone or a scrap piece of paper.
Some vital tidbits can include:
- Driving conditions (i.e., driving speed, traffic light indication)
- Weather conditions
- The behavior of other vehicles
- Location of the collision
These notes and pictures may help you recall the accident details during police and insurance interviews. You may also need to describe the scene during a court session.
Obtain the Police Report Number
Obtain the name and badge number of the investigating police officer. Also determine if it’s a city, county or state police officer responding to the call.
While the police report won’t be available until a few days later, try to get the report number and phone number to request the report. Your insurance provider may request a copy of the report.
File an Insurance Claim
After leaving the scene and safely getting to your destination, the next step is contacting your insurance agency.
Most car insurance providers require filing a claim within 30 days of the incident. However, most people call later that day or the next business day to start the claims process.
Start by reporting the accident to your car insurance provider to submit a claim. You will need to provide the contact information for the other driver and their car insurance information.
During the initial interview, the insurance agent will walk you through the follow-up steps. For instance, you may need to contact the other driver’s insurance provider and schedule a vehicle inspection to assess the damage.
You can also expect an extensive follow-up phone interview with a claims adjuster where you recount your perspective of the incident. The insurance company will interview the other driver separately.
What About Car Accidents in a Company Vehicle?
If you’re in a car accident with a work vehicle, first contact your employer to report the incident.
Your company will likely call the insurance agency that insures the company vehicle. You do not have to contact your insurance agency as the accident didn’t happen in your personal car.
Know Auto Insurance Coverage Amounts
It can be best to review your current car insurance policy coverage and deductible amounts. Knowing your coverage amounts can help you calculate your out-of-pocket costs.
Depending on how extensive your insurance coverage is, you may have several coverage types.
At a minimum, you will have liability coverage. This coverage pays for injuries and damages done to another driver’s vehicle or property when you’re at-fault and legally responsible for making financial amends.
Your policy most likely has two different liability coverage types:
- Bodily injury liability: Covers medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering for hurt people
- Property damage liability: Repairs or replaces damaged vehicles, homes, fences, etc.
Liability coverage doesn’t reimburse damages to your vehicle.
When your car accident involves another vehicle or non-animal object, collision coverage covers repair costs for your car. This coverage applies regardless of who is at fault.
If you have a car loan, your lender most likely requires having this optional insurance coverage to protect your physical asset.
You will be responsible for the first out-of-pocket expenses until reaching your deductible. If you have a $500 deductible, you pay the first $500 before your insurance policy covers the remaining costs.
If your wreck happens to involve an animal instead of another vehicle or object, your comprehensive coverage reimburses damages to your car instead of collision coverage.
Theft, vandalism, flooding and hail are other qualifying reasons.
Most medical insurance plans cover medical bills related to car accidents. But you also have optional medical payments coverage for extra peace of mind.
This coverage may cover these expenses for you and your passengers:
- Funeral expenses
Some medical treatment options may also cover your medical bills if the at-fault driver is uninsured or underinsured. Even though they are financially liable, they most likely won’t have the cash to pay your medical and vehicle repair bills. From personal experience in my previous career, you might be surprised at the number of uninsured drivers involved in incidents.
Auto insurance companies typically require drivers living in “no-fault states” to carry Personal Injury Protection (PIP) Insurance. There are approximately 12 no-fault states.
This insurance covers small injury claims to you and your passengers. If there are significant injuries, the at-fault driver’s liability coverage may activate after the PIP benefits are exhausted.
You may also elect to pay for these extra coverage options for your financial emergency plan.
These benefits can prove their worth during a car accident:
- Wage earner disability benefits
- Extended lost income benefits
- Essential services benefits (i.e., hiring a personal shopper or home cleaning service)
- Rental car reimbursement
- Towing and labor
Some auto insurance providers offer more add-ons than others.
Have a Vehicle Inspection
If you’re at-fault and carry collision coverage, your insurance agency will have you schedule a vehicle inspection. You may go to the local insurance agency or an authorized repair shop.
When the other driver is at-fault, their liability coverage can pay for your car repairs.
The vehicle inspection will determine the estimated repair costs. If your vehicle is “totaled,” you will receive a cash settlement.
Consider Hiring an Attorney
For complex car accidents, you may decide to hire an attorney.
Some reasons to hire an attorney include:
- High medical bills
- Intoxicated driving
- History of previous traffic incidents
If badly injured during an accident, you can hire a personal injury attorney. Most attorneys are free but keep a portion of any court settlement – usually one-third of the settlement amount.
At-fault drivers facing severe legal penalties may hire an attorney for representation to minimize the legal repercussions.
Like a teenager’s small fender bender, first-time offenders can most likely self-represent at the mandatory court date.
How Does Accident Forgiveness Work?
Several car insurance companies offer free accident forgiveness to drivers with several years of clean driving history. You may need to be accident-free for five years to qualify for free accident forgiveness with GEICO or USAA, for instance.
In theory, accident forgiveness cancels any future premium hikes for one at-fault car accident.
Is Accident Forgiveness a Scam?
Not necessarily, but you need to dig deep and look for hidden costs in your auto insurance policy.
If your insurance provider requires you to pay extra for accident forgiveness coverage, the benefit may not be worth it as you essentially “prepay” your accident surcharge.
Other providers may remove your “safe driver bonus” (or a similar benefit) for the next three years. Not having this bonus indirectly increases your monthly premium and offsets the reimbursement costs for at-fault incidents.
Several factors impact future car insurance premiums. Accident forgiveness can reduce future rate hikes. If you want a car insurance policy with accident forgiveness, take the time to research the positive and negative testimonies from actual customers.
How Long Does a Car Accident Stay on Record?
Most at-fault car accidents stay on the driver’s record and car insurance policy for three years. During this three-year period, drivers can expect higher premiums to offset the accident cost. This premium increase is called a surcharge.
There isn’t a magic formula to predict how much car insurance premiums increase per accident. The accident cost, number of moving violations, state and driving record all play a factor.
A previous history of traffic incidents, including serious traffic violations that stay on record for five years, can have a negative effect.
Compare Car Insurance Rates
It’s smart to compare car insurance rates once per year using a free comparison tool like Gabi or Insurify. This tool uses your current auto insurance policy and compares rates from multiple insurers to find the best options with similar coverage.
Your current auto insurance provider may even drop your coverage after your most recent accident. You have no choice but to switch providers in this instance.
But you might also check rates again after a car accident when your current policy renews to see your new monthly rate. Here’s the average cost of car insurance so you have something to compare your rates to.
Rate shopping may help you lower your auto insurance rates, even after a recent accident or moving violation – like a speeding ticket.
Here are several ways to lower your car insurance rates:
- Increase deductible amounts
- Avoid filing small claims
- Reduce coverage amounts down to the state minimums
- Cancel optional coverages with minimal benefits (i.e., rental car reimbursement)
No insurance provider is perfect, but many states require carrying liability coverage to avoid a cash penalty. Try to choose the best company for your insurance needs.
Read the good and bad testimonies and use your judgment to choose the best option for your situation.
Filing an insurance claim, or helping a friend through a car accident, isn’t a fun experience but life happens. Knowing what to do after a car accident can minimize stress, avoid legal mistakes and maximize your car insurance policy.
Have you been in a car accident before? What other helpful suggestions do you have to share?