I’ve had a car accident … now what? Step-by-step car insurance and accident guide
Have you been involved in an accident and not sure what to do? This guide provides a list of steps to follow if you’re ever in a motor vehicle accident, from securing the scene to making a claim with your car insurance provider.
Steps after being involved in a car accident
- Secure the area
- Collect information
- Call your insurer
- Take care of your vehicle
- Make a claim
- Post-accident recap
Do you or anyone else require medical assistance? If anyone is injured, call 911 immediately.
- Apply first aid if you know how and make the person comfortable.
- If spinal or head injuries are suspected, don’t move them under any circumstances and wait for the ambulance to arrive.
- Is the surrounding area safe? Make the area safe to prevent another accident from occurring. Secondary accidents account for many of the accidents that occur on US roads.
- Is the car safe? Make sure that there are no hazards such as leaking fuel or debris lying on the road.
- Is the car still running? Make sure engines are switched off.
- Can you move the vehicles? If it’s safe to do so, you should move the vehicles involved in the accident to the side of the road and put on your hazard lights.
- Have you called the police? Call the police if someone has been injured or if there is third-party property damage where the owner is not present. The police should also be notified if there is any suspicion of drugs or alcohol involved in the accident.
The next step is to exchange details with other drivers involved in the accident. Details you should exchange include:
- Full name
- Residential address
- Mobile phone number
- Driver’s license number
- Registration number
- Insurance details (including name of insurer and policy number)
Ideally, you’ll have a notepad and pen in your glovebox for this purpose. You could also take notes on your phone. Some insurers also now have mobile apps to help with the accident-recording process.
If you have your mobile phone, take photos of the accident scene, as well as the scene itself. These pictures should include the damage to your car, damage to other vehicles and any third-party property damage.
How to deal with a difficult driver
Unfortunately, not all drivers will be cooperative and helpful when involved in an accident. Here are some scenarios and how to deal with them:
- Uninsured driver. If the other driver does not have insurance, get his or her driver’s license number and contact info. Your insurance company might be able to help you recoup some of the costs associated with the accident.
- Hit and run. If you are involved in a hit and run, try to get the license plate number, make, model and color of the other car involved. Then immediately call the police. If there were any witnesses, ask if they will wait around to provide their account to the police officer.
- Uncooperative driver. If the other driver isn’t willing to provide his or her insurance or contact info, call the police. Then take photos and get what information you can, like the license plate number.
If possible, call your insurance company from the accident scene. They’ll be able to talk you through the process and advise you of your next steps. You’ll usually be advised to not admit liability to anyone.
This is because you may be in a state of shock or may not be fully aware of the circumstances of the accident. It is not up to you or anyone else at the scene to determine fault, which should be left to the police and insurance companies to decide at a later date.
Even if no one is hurt or the damage is only minor, you should still report an accident to your insurer. This will protect you in the event that the other party involved decides to make a claim against you, or if you develop an injury or discover further damage to your vehicle at a later date.
What you should say to your insurance provider
It’s against the law to lie to your insurance company, but be mindful of the information you do provide. Answer their questions truthfully and provide an honest recount of the incident, but don’t try to guess on any fuzzy details.
Don’t assume blame. Relay the facts, and let the police and insurance company determine who is at fault.
If your vehicle is damaged, you will need to determine whether it is roadworthy before driving it from the scene of the accident. Damage may be obvious in the form of a flat tire or punctured radiator, but other damage may be harder to determine, such as steering or brake problems. Check your vehicle over thoroughly before driving it. If there’s any doubt about its roadworthiness, do not drive it away from the scene.
If your vehicle is not drivable, tow trucks attending the accident may try to talk you into taking your vehicle to a mechanic they are affiliated with. Do not let yourself be talked into anything you don’t understand or trust. Under no circumstances should you sign a contract, as it may be committing you to having your vehicle repaired at a particular mechanic.
Ask your insurer what you should do. You’ll generally be directed to an approved mechanic, which the tow truck should take your vehicle to.
Police Assistance Line
If your vehicle requires towing from an accident where the police were not called to attend, you must report the accident to the police after leaving the crash site.
Whose insurance should I use: theirs or mine?
Your insurance company will handle the claim with the other driver’s insurance on your behalf. Typically, your provider will cover the costs upfront and then seek reimbursement from the other insurance company. However, you will most likely have to pay your deductible, even though you are not at fault. Once your insurer is reimbursed by the other insurance company, your deductible will be refunded. This process often results in faster claims since you will be paid before fault is determined. But you will have to cover your deductible upfront.
If you opt to use the other driver’s insurance, you might have to wait longer before you will receive money for repairs to your car. This is because the insurer will need to investigate who is at fault before releasing any claims money. However, you won’t have to pay your deductible. The negative to using the other driver’s insurance is when he or she doesn’t have enough coverage to pay for all of the damage to your car. In which case you’ll have to go ahead and file a claim with your provider anyway.
The final step after an accident is to make a claim with your insurance company. If your vehicle was towed to an auto mechanic that has been approved by your insurer, repairs will usually be authorized fairly quickly.
On the other hand, if your vehicle is drivable after the accident and only needs minor repairs, your insurer may require you to obtain at least two quotes (sometimes three) from different mechanics, from which they will choose the lowest quote.
Whether you choose to make a claim at all will depend on the cost of repairs compared to your deductible, and the effect a claim would have on your no-claim bonus. Many people choose not to make a claim on repairs under $1,000 for these reasons.
Don’t fall for a staged accident
Unfortunately, there are unscrupulous drivers out there who will stage an accident in order to scam your insurance company out of money. These fraudsters often stage an accident that appears to be your fault, and then exaggerates injuries and/or damage to their car. Although your insurance provider is the ultimate victim, the loss they incur due to these fraudulent claims is passed on to you in the form of higher premiums.
Here are some warning signs to look out for:
- You were driving in an urban part of town. These types of criminals often strike in urban areas where there is a lot of traffic, which makes it harder for you to avoid their staged accident.
- You were driving in a wealthy part of town. Wealthy drivers are more likely to have better insurance.
- You were driving a newer, higher-end car. A nicer, newer car is also more likely to have a good insurance policy taken out on it.
- You live in a no-fault state. Staged accidents are more common in no-fault states, where insurance providers must pay up no matter who is at fault.
- You had to slam on the brakes. A common practice is to have a passenger watch for when you are distracted, then the driver comes to a sudden stop, forcing you to slam on your brakes and potentially rear-end their car.
- The driver waves you into the lane. What appears to be a courteous driver signaling you the right of way abruptly speeds up and crashes into your car.
What to do if you suspect you are the victim of a staged accident
- Get the info of the driver and all of the passengers in the car, including driver’s license, address and phone number.
- Use the camera on your smartphone to document the damage to all cars involved in the accident, as well as all of the passengers.
- Call the police.
Don’t take cash at the scene of an accident
When you’re involved in an accident and the damage seems to be minimal or even nonexistent, it could be tempting to take a cash offer from the other driver. But resist temptation. There may be damage to your car that is not visible, or you could be underestimating the cost of repairing any visible damage. You also could have suffered an injury that isn’t apparent at the time of the crash.
Take the time to get the diver’s insurance and contact info, and be sure to document the accident by taking pictures with your smartphone. If the costs of the accident exceed the cash offer (which will most likely be the case), you’ll be glade you did.
The main things to remember after you’ve been involved in an accident is to make sure:
- The area is secure and everyone is safe.
- Those who are injured are attended to and an ambulance is called.
- The police are called if necessary.
- Your insurer is contacted as soon as possible.
- Everyone involved exchanges information.
If you’re involved in an accident, try to stay calm. The best thing you can do after an accident is to go through the steps listed here and let the insurance companies argue the legalities of the situation at a later date.
Frequently asked questions
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Picture: Highway Patrol Images, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (image cropped)