Fender benders and major collisions, whoever’s at fault, can leave you feeling shaken. This makes it hard to think straight. It’s smart to have an action plan in place for what to do in a car accident. That way, you’ll be able to keep everyone safe, get your car repaired, and ensure you’re following the law. Bookmark or keep this checklist of what to do after a car accident in your vehicle, so it will be close at hand if you need it.
What to Do After a Car Accident
Stay calm and assess the situation. Take a deep breath, then check the scene to see if anyone is injured or in imminent danger. If you smell gasoline or see smoke, move as far away as safety allows. Do not attempt to put out a fire yourself.
Call 911 for help with any apparent injuries or hazards (such as a fire).
Seek safety. Resist the urge to confront or swap information with the other driver(s) immediately. Instead, quickly get yourself and others out of harm’s way. If your car is driveable, move it to the shoulder or an emergency lane. Turn on your hazard lights and—if you can do so safely—set out flares or reflectors.
Be careful of what you say. Don’t blame others or take the blame, according to the CSAA Insurance Group. An investigation may find you weren’t responsible, and saying “I’m sorry” could complicate your insurance claim(s). While you're at it, don't show your policy or share your policy limits with others involved in the crash. Discuss the details of the collision only with police, medical professionals, and your insurance agent.
Notify the authorities if a call to 911 is unnecessary. Add contact information for first responders in your area to this checklist. If the collision is minor and police do not come to the scene, it’s in your best interest to file a report at a local police station as soon as possible.
Take photos of the scene and any involved vehicles using your smartphone.
Exchange information with the driver(s) of the other vehicle(s). Collect each driver’s name, driver’s license number, and auto insurance carrier and policy number. Never leave the scene before exchanging information. If police were called, wait for them to arrive; otherwise, you could be deemed a hit-and-run driver, and criminal charges could be brought against you.
- the direction(s) you and the other driver(s) were traveling
- the details about visibility or weather conditions
- the license plate(s) and ID numbers of vehicles involved
- the names and phone numbers of any witnesses
Contact your state department of motor vehicles or transportation to find out whether you are required by law to report the accident to them. You may want to keep a traffic accident/crash report form (typically available online from the DMV, MVD, or DOT) in your vehicle, so you’ll be prepared if you do in a car accident. Don’t count on getting pertinent details for your insurance claim from the police report; it may not be ready for days.
Alert your agent. Notify your car insurance company as soon as possible. If you’re a AAA Member, call (800) 922-8228. The longer you delay, the more complicated filing a claim becomes. Even if the damage seems minor, don’t let anyone persuade you to settle informally. The other driver may offer to cover your costs—until he or she sees the bill.
If you or a passenger is injured:
Keep track of any medical expenses.
File an insurance claim. If you were at fault, your car insurance policy's medical payments coverage will be used in combination with your health insurance to help pay the bills. If another driver was to blame, you'll need to submit an insurance claim and a repair estimate to that driver’s insurance company. (If you live in Utah, a no-fault state, you'll need to use your own PIP coverage.) If other people are injured in the crash and you were at fault, their medical expenses will be covered by your bodily injury liability coverage, up to your auto insurance policy’s limits.