Each year, more than 6 million car accidents occur in the United States, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Whether you’ve been in a minor fender-bender or a serious collision, you may be too shaken up to think clearly, so it’s important to do some research in advance. Here’s what to do on the spot and after to make the claims process easier.
1. Determine if anyone is hurt
Never leave the scene of an accident, even a minor one. Your first priority is safety; everything else can wait, says Rob Luna, head of the auto claims group at the American Automobile Association in Costa Mesa, Calif.
“Make sure everyone is okay and get medical assistance if you or anyone else needs it,” Luna says.
2. Get yourself and your vehicle out of danger
If you are not injured and the accident is minor, carefully drive your car to the side of the road so as not to obstruct traffic. Keep your hazard warning lights on and install flares or reflective emergency triangles to warn other drivers to slow down. However, if the accident is more serious or someone is injured, leave the vehicles where they are.
Even if you don’t think you were hurt, be extra careful when getting out of your car, especially if the accident happened on a highway or busy street. You may not be thinking logically, which could put you in danger.
3. Contact the police
While reporting the accident is important, in some areas police may not respond to minor collisions, Luna says.
“Some police departments are moving to online reporting rather than dedicating resources to the scene of the accident,” he says.
If the police arrive, write down the officer’s name, badge number and contact information. Be sure to get a copy of the accident report from the agent. If the police do not come, you can request a copy of the report from the law enforcement office or through the adjuster handling your claim.
4. Gather important information
Use your mobile phone camera to take photos of documents or, with pen and paper, get the name, address, phone number and driver’s license number of everyone involved in the process. ‘accident. If the driver’s name does not match the car’s registration or insurance papers, determine the person’s relationship to the owner of the vehicle.
Next, gather all vehicle information, including year, make and model, color, license plate number, and vehicle identification number. Get the insurance policy number and company phone number, in case the other person doesn’t report the accident, Luna suggests. See if any witnesses are willing to provide you with contact information and details about what they saw.
Never share your social security number, insurance policy coverage limits, or other personal information.
5. Document the scene
Record as many details of the accident as possible using your smartphone’s camera, video and voice memo functions, advises Luna.
“Check the impact on the car: was it front, driver’s side, rear? This is best done by taking a photo of the whole car and close-up photos of the damage to the both for your car and for the other party.”
Record the date and time of the accident and photograph or film the entire accident scene, including skid marks or property damage. Note the street names and the direction each vehicle was heading before and after the accident.
“One thing that often goes unnoticed is the position of the cars [relative] homeless. This is critical information as it helps the adjuster recreate the accident when you report the claim,” says Luna.