In many cases, minor auto collisions should receive the same treatment you would give to a more serious accident scenario. While it may seem excessive to give the same amount of time and attention to a fender as you would to an accident that totals your car, it is essential to have a detailed record of what happened – in starting with proper documentation at the scene of the accident.
Check for injuries
The first thing to do after even a minor collision is to check that you and your passengers are not injured. If anyone is injured, call 911 and get medical help from first responders at the scene.
Even if you don’t immediately think someone was hurt, you can’t rule it out at this point. The impact of a minor crash causes an adrenaline rush that could mask a painful response, and injuries that aren’t immediately apparent could start showing symptoms within hours or days of the collision.
For this reason, it is important not to say things like “I am not injured” in statements to law enforcement or adjusters until you, your passengers and your vehicle have been fully assessed.
Go to a safe place
The first thing to do after a collision is to get yourself and your passengers to a safe place. If your car is drivable and presents a potential hazard on the road in its current location, park on one side of the road. If it is unsafe to drive your car, move you and your passengers to the side of the road or to a nearby sidewalk.
Document the accident: collect photographic evidence
After assessing potential injuries and getting to safety, begin collecting evidence of the accident. This can be important in determining who bears the majority – or all – of the fault.
Be sure to get photos of all vehicles involved from many different angles. Include license plates, close and far photos of any visible damage, and photos of surrounding streets and the scene of the incident.
If injuries are apparent, it is a good idea to collect photographic evidence of these as well.
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Call 911 and file an accident report
Always call law enforcement at the scene of any car accident, no matter how minor. If it is an emergency, dial 911. If there are no apparent injuries and an ambulance is not needed, notify the dispatcher to send a police officer at the scene. You can also choose to call a non-emergency service line to do this. The important thing is to have an agent on site to write an accident report.
Disagree if the other driver makes suggestions or asks to skip this step, keeps the incident confidential, or tries to provide a cash incentive to let them leave early. A police report of a car accident can protect your legal rights – both personally and with insurance companies, which are unlikely to cover damage without an official report.
Exchange contact and insurance information
Begin calmly and professionally exchanging contact and insurance information with the other driver as soon as it is safe to do so. You’ll want to ask for their full name, address, a contact phone number, and their insurance information, which includes their insurance provider’s company name, phone number, and policy number. If possible, ask for contact information for all passengers in the other vehicle in case they need to provide recorded statements later.
Provide a statement
The law enforcement officer will need to take statements from all drivers involved in the collision, as well as statements from passengers and witnesses. Document the names of witnesses and their contact information for your own records, if possible.
Even if you feel partially or fully responsible, you should not apologize for the accident or admit any wrongdoing. The officer will investigate the scene and form their own opinion of what happened based on the facts and other evidence.
After the police statement is complete, ask for the officer’s name, badge number, phone number, and police report number so you can easily get the records if you need them.
Stay on the premises until you are cleared to leave
It is a criminal offense to leave the scene of a car accident before law enforcement arrives, unless you need to be taken by ambulance for emergency medical treatment. Stay with your vehicle in all other circumstances and wait to be dismissed by the law enforcement officer after completing their report.
Inform your car insurer
Immediately call your auto insurance company and provide all the information you documented about the accident. This is an essential step, regardless of the driver at fault, as it can protect you from any claims against you that the other driver may make.
Note that calling your insurance company is not optional: auto insurance companies require policyholders to immediately report any accident they are involved in when the event might require coverage. Every company has a certain amount of time during which this is necessary. Failure to report an accident, even a minor car accident, could void your policy.
From there, you can begin the claims process if you want to seek compensation for any car damage or other personal injury.