Being in a car accident can be a rather jarring experience, but if you know how to handle it, you can avoid becoming a nervous wreck yourself.
With all of the commuting, family vacationing and errand-running we do in our vehicles, chances are that most drivers will be in at least a minor collision at some point in their lives. Though you do your best to drive defensively and responsibly, it's still wise to know what to do if you're in a car accident.
After an impact, take a deep breath and check for injuries. You're bound to be a little shaken and upset, but if you suspect anything's physically wrong, call an ambulance. And of course, check on your passengers. If you're unharmed, turn on your hazard lights.
Next, make sure the other person involved in the accident is alright, but be safe while doing so. If you can get out of your car and communicate with the other driver, find out if he or she is unharmed. Get confirmation about the other driver's passengers, too. Sometimes, a mouthed "Are you okay?" at the other passenger will suffice, especially if your accident is on a busy interstate or highway.
If you can, move your vehicle off the road. If the accident is minor, try to move into the nearest parking lot or driveway. Communicate with the other driver where you plan to move your car, and instruct him or her to follow you. Make note of your location, including the nearest cross street and direction you were traveling before the accident — you will need this information when you call 911 to report it.
This next step is extremely important — beyond politely finding out the bulleted information below, do not discuss any details of the accident with the other driver. Don't muse out loud about what possibly happened to cause the accident, and never admit fault. This is to avoid a dispute later.
Next, call 911. The operator will find out where you are and dispatch a police officer for you. While you are waiting for the police officer to arrive, have your driver's license and proof of insurance handy. Then find out the other driver's:
- name and phone number
- insurance company name, policy number and phone number
- license plate number, and
- vehicle make, model and year.
In addition, take immediate notes about the accident including the specific damages to all vehicles involved. If you have a camera with you and it is safe to do so, photograph the accident scene. If there were witnesses, get their contact information and ask them to remain on the scene until the officer arrives.
When the police officer arrives, he or she will ask both parties what happened. Even if you're angry, stick to the facts and let the other person speak when it's his or her turn. In most cases, the point of damage on the vehicles says a thousand words.
The police officer will ask a few questions, and then go to his car to look up each driver's information. Based on what has been said and seen, the officer will assess who is at fault and write a report. Sometimes — especially in rear-impact collisions — he or she will write traffic tickets to either or both parties involved. The police will then give you the accident claim number, which is very important. Keep up with it, and don't sign anything unless it's from the police officer or your insurance company.
You should call the insurance company next, but whose do you use? If the accident is your fault, it's best to call your insurance company. If it's not, use the other driver's to avoid paying a deductible.
When you call, the insurance representative will ask many of the same questions as the police officer, plus how you would like to handle the damage to your vehicle and personal transportation while your car is being repaired. If you would like a particular body shop to fix your car, don't be afraid to speak up — by law, the insurance company cannot force you to use its recommended body shop. At the time you call, you don't have to know which one you would like to use, but it helps if you have an idea.
If neither policy covers a rental car, you will have to get one on your own. Otherwise, one insurance company should handle most of the remaining car accident process for you, including appraising the damage to your car, giving you an estimate of the parts that need repair or replacement, setting you up with a rental car (if applicable) and checking on the progress of the repair work.
When the insurance company representative gives you an estimate, it may say that used or generic parts should be used instead of new parts to repair your car. Remember that it's your car and you decide what should be done to it. Whether or not the accident is your fault, refuse to settle for a repair job you don't like. Demand new parts from the vehicle manufacturer if you don't want generic or used replacement parts, and keep in mind that you can always have your own mechanic look at the car (which may be at your expense).
Please note that if you don't use the insurance company's recommended body shop, you will have to provide the body shop with a copy of the damage estimate yourself, either by faxing it in or actually handing it to a person at the body shop. The insurance company will probably remind you of this.
When you get back on the road, you might find yourself driving more slowly for a while, which is to be expected. Rest assured that as time goes on, after the car has been repaired and the insurance companies have been dealt with, minor car accidents become mere memories — ones that, at the very least, make us more aware, cautious drivers.
"AutoTrader.com" is a registered trademark of TPI Holdings, Inc. used under exclusive license.