What to Do After a Car Accident

Written by | Updated April 20, 2017

We realize being involved in a car accident is startling and stressful. We also know that learning how to deal with a crash can make the experience less overwhelming—which is why we put together this helpful guide.

Here’s SafeWise’s step-by-step advice for what to do after a car accident, plus tips for making your vehicle safe again.

What to Do Immediately After an Auto Accident

A car accident can stir up a range of emotions, including guilt, fear, and anger. So, before you get out of your car, take a few deep breaths to work through your feelings and try to calm down. Then, follow these steps.

1. Don’t leave. Never leave the scene of an accident, even if it’s just a fender bender.

2. Look for injuries. Check yourself and your passengers for signs of injury.

3. Call 9-1-1. Report the accident and ask for a police officer to respond. Request an ambulance if you think someone is hurt.

4. Stay safe. If your car is interfering with traffic or creating a hazard, move it to a safer location like a nearby parking lot. If it can’t be moved, turn on the hazard lights and put out safety cones or flares.

5. Document the accident. Take pictures of the accident scene if it’s safe to do so. File an accident report with the responding police officer, get their contact information, and find out how to obtain a copy of the report.

6. Call for a ride if necessary. Don’t risk getting behind the wheel if you feel dazed or shaky after the accident.

SafeWise recommends filing a police report even when the accident seems minor. A police report helps ensure the details of the accident are documented accurately—plus, most insurance companies require an accident report before they handle claims. Police reports are also helpful because you or someone else involved in the accident may have injuries that don’t appear for several days, and your car may be damaged in ways that aren’t visible at the scene.

What to Do When You Get Home

Even a minor traffic accident can leave you feeling drained. When you get home, take time to relax and gather your thoughts. Next, take these four steps.

1. Call Your Car Insurance Company

As soon as possible, notify your auto insurance company that you’ve been in an accident. The representative will have several questions for you, so set aside plenty of time and find a quiet area to talk. Be prepared to provide the date, time, and location of the accident, and the name, contact information, and insurance policy information of any other drivers involved in the crash. You’ll also need the police report number and the names and phone numbers of any vehicle occupants or witnesses. 

2. Document Damage to Your Vehicle

If you couldn’t take pictures of the damage to your vehicle when it was at the accident scene, take them now. It’s also a good idea to take pictures of any injuries you and your passengers may have, and make a note of any physical issues you’re experiencing. Minor discomforts, like headaches, can develop into more serious problems that require medical attention—the cost of which may be covered in part by your or the other driver’s auto insurance policy.

3. Get Organized

Start a file for all of your accident-related documents so any information you might need is right at hand. Keep a copy of the police report, pictures of the accident, your insurance claim number, and your claim adjuster’s name and contact information. This is also where you’ll want to keep receipts from any expenses you’ve incurred because of the accident.

4. Order a Copy of the Accident Report

It could take up to a week or more for the investigating officer to complete your accident report, and many police agencies charge a small fee to obtain a copy. Once you have the report, thoroughly review it. Contact the investigating officer if you have any questions or concerns. Sometimes accident reports identify which driver the police officer believes caused the accident, but your insurance company will conduct its own investigation.

How to Make Your Car Safer After an Accident

If you feel a bit anxious about driving again, you’re not alone. Many people feel uneasy about getting back behind the wheel after they’ve had a car accident. Thankfully, there are several new gadgets and technologies that can help boost your vehicle’s safety—and your confidence.

  • Dash Cams

These high-tech devices offer a range of features and benefits, not the least of which is recording what happens during an accident. Learn more about the benefits of a dash cam and find out which ones SafeWise recommends.

  • Rear-View Backup Cameras

A backup, or rearview, camera is typically mounted above your car’s rear license plate. It connects to a display screen that mounts on your dashboard and shows what’s behind your car—warning you when you get too close to a person or object.

  • Antidistraction Technologies

More and more automakers are incorporating technologies into their vehicles to help keep drivers’ eyes on the road and off cellphones. For example, Ford’s SYNC operating system reads incoming texts out loud and can send texts dictated by the driver. With SYNC’s MyKey feature, parents can block calls and texts when their teen is driving.

  • Precollision Alerts

Some vehicles come with forward-sensing radar that detects—and warns you—if you are about to crash. More advanced pre-collision alert systems include intervention technologies, meaning they automatically brake the vehicle when a collision is impending.

To find out which safety features your car has, read your vehicle’s owner’s manual or go to MyCarDoesWhat.org.

Teen Drivers and Auto Accidents

We don’t want to alarm parents, but the CDC reports that drivers ages sixteen to nineteen are at a higher risk than any other age group of experiencing an auto accident.1 Factors that put teens at risk include underestimating dangerous situations, speeding, and being distracted.2 Consult TeenDriverSource for more information on teen driving and to learn how to help your young driver become safer.

We’re sorry you’ve been involved in an accident, but unfortunately, even the most careful drivers experience car crashes. We hope our tips will help you in the days and weeks to come. If you need a new car because yours was damaged beyond repair, consult our list of the top safety rated vehicles for your family.

1. CDC, “Teen Drivers: Get the Facts
2. CDC, “Teen Drivers: Get the Facts

Written by Alexia Chianis

Wanderlust junky and mom of two, Alexia is a former police officer and U.S. Army Captain who draws on her experiences to write about a myriad of safety topics. Learn more

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