This may be an article you’d rather not read because no one wants to think about having an auto accident. After all, each of us knows that he’s the world’s safest driver. But according to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, in 2004 there were an estimated 6.1 million motor vehicle crashes, and some of those drivers may have been as good as you.
So, as careful as you might be, it’s still possible that some character is going to be talking on his cell phone, fiddling with the radio or eating his lunch and will rear-end your vehicle. You hear the crunch of metal and the shattering of glass and plastic. What should you do next?
I’m OK, You’re OK
First things first: check for injuries. Ask your passengers if they have been hurt and check to see if anyone in the other vehicle(s) has been injured. If there are injuries, do not try to move the injured person. Call police immediately.
If the accident is minor and the cars are drivable, you should move cars to the side of the road and out of the way of oncoming traffic. When doing this, stay focused on your one objective —safely moving your car to a secure location. You can deal with other matters once this is done. Leaving cars in the middle of the road or busy intersection can result in additional accidents and injuries. If a car can’t be driven, drivers and passengers should remain in their cars with seatbelts fastened for everyone’s safety until help arrives. Make sure to turn on your four-way flashers and set out cones, flares or warning triangles if possible.
Get the Facts
After the accident, talk with each driver and exchange the following information: name, address, phone number, license plate number, insurance company, policy number, and driver license numbers for both the driver and the owner, if they’re not the same person. If the driver’s name is different from the name of the insured, establish what their relationship is and take down the name and address for each individual. Also write down a description of each car, including year, make, model and color, as well as the exact location of the collision and how it happened. Since an accident can have legal ramifications, don’t discuss fault with anyone. Leave that to the professionals to work out.
It’s a good idea to carry an accident emergency kit in your car. It should include a cell phone, as well as pen and paper for taking notes, a disposable camera to take photos of the vehicles at the scene, and a card with information about allergies or medical conditions that may require special attention. Also, keep a list of your contact numbers – your spouse or other relatives — handy for law enforcement agencies. A set of cones, warning triangles or emergency flares are also a good idea.
Use your camera to document the damage to all the vehicles. Keep in mind that you want your photos to show the overall context of the accident so that you can make your case to a claims adjuster. If there were witnesses, try to get their contact information; they may be able to help you if the other drivers dispute your version of what happened.
File an Accident Report
Although law enforcement officers may not respond to accidents unless there are injuries, drivers should file a state vehicle accident report, which is available at police stations and often on the state’s department of motor vehicles web site. A police report often helps accident management and insurance companies speed up the claims process.
Know Your Policy
The whole claims process will be easier following your accident if you know the details of your company’s vehicle accident policy and coverage, or in the case of your personal auto insurance, the terms of that policy. Don’t wait until after an accident to find out what’s expected of you and what your options are in the event of an accident.
Obviously, it’s much more pleasant to avoid accidents and injuries in the first place, but being prepared can make the aftermath of an accident at least a little less painful.
• Seek aid for any injuries.
• Call 911.
• Stay at the scene.
• Give authorities complete and accurate information.
• Ask for a written accident report.
• Get the names, addresses and license numbers and tag numbers of all people involved.
• Call your fleet management company or your insurance agent.