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Talking after a car accident

In a Car Crash? Here’s What to Do After a Car Accident

Johnna Kaplan

Picture yourself driving down the highway. You’re focusing on the cars in front of you when suddenly the driver next to you swerves. They crash into your vehicle, which then veers into a third car. Or you’re backing out of a parking space when another driver absent-mindedly slams right into the rear of your car. Or you’re at a stop light when your foot slips off the brake pedal. You roll forward, tapping the car in front of you. Do you know what to do after a car accident?

Every car crash is different. In any crash situation, what you do after an accident can have as much impact as the collision itself. Knowing how to handle the aftermath of an accident can help you avoid additional stress during an already difficult moment. Here’s what to do immediately after a crash.

Stay at the Scene After a Car Accident

Regardless of whether you are at fault, the same procedures are the same after a crash. All drivers involved have to abide by relevant laws. For example, never leave the scene of an accident. It can be considered a “hit and run” if you do leave the scene of the accident. Aside from being irresponsible, it’s also illegal in most places. Depending on the circumstances and location of the crash, leaving the scene of an accident can be a traffic infraction, a misdemeanor or even a felony, with legal repercussions to match.

Unless someone was driving under the influence, is behaving erratically, or otherwise gives the authorities a reason to arrest or detain them, all drivers will be free to leave after the situation has been appropriately dealt with.

Injuries After a Car Accident

If you or your passengers are injured, call 911 or have someone do it for you. If you’re not injured, check on the other driver and passengers involved in the crash. Seek medical attention for them right away if needed.

Minor Car Accidents

If the accident is minor, pull over as soon as you can do so safely. Assess the damage to the vehicles, if any, and exchange information with the other driver. In most cases, all drivers involved will report a claim to their insurance company, but you don’t have to.

If there are no injuries and the damage is minimal, you may want to take care of the repairs yourself without involving the car insurance companies or the police. If one driver is clearly at fault, they may offer to reimburse the other driver for the cost of the repairs. Before you decide whether to file an insurance claim, consider that what might seem like small damage at first glance may turn out to be something more serious.

Minor Damage from a Car Accident

Although there is usually no need to report a very minor accident (unless local law demands it), if you believe the accident was the fault of the other driver, or no one’s fault, call the police* to have them put together a report. Having that official report can help your case in a dispute. And if the other driver is behaving aggressively or strangely, don’t hesitate to call the police.

*Note that in many areas, the police may not respond to an accident that occurs on private property if no one was injured.

Serious Car Accidents

Even if there are no injuries, call for emergency assistance if any of the vehicles involved are seriously damaged or if there are any signs of a car fire.

If it is safe and possible to drive your vehicle, move it to the side of the road or another less dangerous location nearby.

If you cannot move your car, or if you and the others are standing at the side of a busy road, try to stay calm and be as cautious as possible while waiting for the police to arrive. After a car accident, passengers and vehicles are at risk for being struck again by passing cars. Keep your hazard lights on and if you have cones or flares on hand, use them.

Document Damage After a Car Accident

Take Photos of Car Accident Damage

When it’s safe for you to do so, document the damage to your car, and, if possible, the accident scene. If you can, take photos and write down what happened in as much detail as you remember. Consider drawing a diagram of the accident scene. Your insurance company may have a mobile app that lets you record the details of the accident and the damage to your car. The app can also help you begin the process of reporting the claim.

If you’re not able to document the details of the crash right away, do so as soon as you can. Even the smallest details that are fresh in your mind soon after an accident might be relevant when you describe the incident to your insurance representative. You will also be glad you’ve recorded this information if the other driver ends up disputing your version of events down the line.

Exchange Information After a Car Accident

When exchanging information with the other driver involved in the crash, you’ll have to provide details like your:

  • Name
  • Insurance company
  • Policy number
  • Vehicle’s license plate number

In the United States, the amount of information you must share varies by state. This is also true of other legal requirements for drivers in car accidents. For example, some states require drivers to file a report with the Department of Motor Vehicles if there is no police report or if the damage to a vehicle exceeds a specified amount.

What Not to Say After a Car Accident

At the accident scene, don’t discuss the details of the accident with anyone aside from the police or other authorities. Don’t admit fault, even if you think you might have caused the accident, unless you are choosing to handle a very minor and clear-cut incident (e.g., you bumped into and scratched a parked car) with the other driver privately.

When you file a claim, you can discuss the event in detail with representatives from your insurance company and, if it comes to it, the lawyers they assign to your case.

Reporting a Claim After a Car Accident

Contact Your Insurance Company

To file a claim, you can contact your insurance company online, by phone or via their mobile app. You’ll speak with a representative who will ask you to describe, in detail, the circumstances of the accident. They will also want to know about any injuries or damage to the vehicles involved. You may have the opportunity to submit your own photos of the damage using a guided online tool. These photos help start the process of documenting vehicle damage.

Your insurance company will represent you in any dealings with the other driver or their respective insurance companies. They can also help you as you navigate the post-accident process by answering your questions and assisting with tasks. Your insurance company can provide guidance where to have your car repaired or renting a replacement vehicle.

Even the best, most careful motorists can meet with bad luck—and bad drivers. So although it’s frightening to contemplate being in an accident, it’s a good idea to prepare for the possibility. In addition to researching what to do in case of a crash, it’s also helpful to know the laws of the jurisdictions where you drive. You should also review what your auto insurance policy covers. Like being a good driver, keeping yourself aware and informed will help you stay safe on the road.

What causes traffic jams and car crashes? Learn what dangerous driving habits contribute to traffic jams and car crashes . Find out how you can avoid them to reduce your likelihood of having an accident.

17 Responses to "In a Car Crash? Here’s What to Do After a Car Accident"
    • Derek Swain | January 14, 2021 at 11:32 am

      Thank you for explaining how failing to remain at the scene of an accident can result in serious legal consequences. My wife’s car was recently rear-ended by a driver that refused to pull over after the collision, and she would like to seek compensation since we will not be able to afford her medical bills by ourselves. We’ll find an attorney that can help us with our hit and run problem.

    • Darrien Hansen | October 12, 2020 at 1:37 pm

      It makes sense that you should refrain from admitting that you were at fault for an accident even if you feel that you are responsible. My sister recently got into a head-on collision when she swerved her vehicle to avoid a child on the street, and she needs to find a way to cover her medical bills for her leg injury. Maybe she should find an attorney that can help her navigate through her case without admitting fault.

    • Ilse | October 10, 2020 at 12:53 pm

      Thank you for refreshing the subject.

    • Toni Harris Hodson | October 10, 2020 at 11:24 am

      I’m glad I have read the dos and don’t if in a car accident. But I lived in UK(England) for 34 1/2 years. I never had yo look for an attorney. That was included in the insurance.
      They (the assigned attorney) would ring you and they would advise even with filing report. They dealt with the other drivers attorney! Especially if there were injuries ( you are advised to go to hospital to be checked) whiplash is something that shows up later and that can be looked into at hospital
      But being in US now, I understand, to a degree, the cost of hospital, medication and Attorney are all your expenses! Wow!
      So when does a person call for a tow truck if needed? ASAP or after police arrive?

    • Teresa Eldridge | October 9, 2020 at 11:29 am

      I would caution to listen carefully to your insurance agent if you report an accident that was not your fault. When I did this, the agent was only interested in trying to get me to file on MY insurance. I clearly let her know the other party was at fault, per the police report, and was filing under HIS insurance. She said she couldn’t do anything other than file on MY insurance. She could not assist me dealing with the other insurance to have my car repaired and have my injury addressed. Fortunately I am capable of handling my own business, but other people may not be able to do that.

    • Zoe Campos | October 9, 2020 at 10:53 am

      Thanks for reminding me that I should never leave the scene where the car accident took place. I’ve never been involved in such, but I’ve watched a lot of news segments that featured how horrible one can be. Maybe getting in touch with a lawyer that I can consult might also help during this situation.

    • Jessica | August 31, 2020 at 11:55 am

      These tips are useful and especially a phrase like “I am sorry”, it legally interprets that you are accepting that the car accident was a consequence of a fault on your part.

    • Afton Jackson | May 6, 2020 at 11:54 pm

      Car accidents seem to be one of the worst experiences someone can face and I’ve always dreaded the day it might happen to me. I was willing to read up on some of the things one might do in case they experience one, and I appreciate your article covering the injuries after a car accident because many are focused on the damage done to the car but not to the people involved in the accident. I would even go as far as looking to find an injury care service that can take care of any post-accident injuries that may not have been found or identified at the accident scene.

    • Callum Palmer | September 17, 2019 at 4:18 am

      If I were to get into a car crash, I would for sure follow your advice and not admit anything. No sense in making something my problem when it was clearly someone else’s fault. I will also do as you said and file a claim with the insurance company to speed up the process of hopefully getting compensation for the accident. If for some reason they would decline it, then I’d go get an attorney to help me out.

    • Raymond Cooper | September 17, 2018 at 4:37 pm

      It’s good to know that your insurance company will help you navigate the steps to getting your car back on the road along with getting your health back. My friend was recently involved in an auto accident and sustained some whiplash. I’ll be sure to let her know that her insurance company can help her get back on track to feeling 100% again.

    • Alexandria Martinez | June 26, 2018 at 9:46 pm

      It was helpful to read that reporting a claim can be done online, over the phone, or through the insurance’s app. This is a great tip that makes things a lot easier for those in accidents. My cousin would love knowing this as he looks into a car accident attorney.

    • Sutton Turner | June 26, 2018 at 4:31 pm

      I am glad you said to exchange information between you and the other impacted car. I got into a car accident last month and am now hiring an attorney to help with the claim. Thank you for the tips on what to do after getting in a car accident.

    • Bethany Birchridge | June 18, 2018 at 7:27 pm

      My friend got hit by a car, so he’s been looking for an attorney to help him. This article will definitely help him out, so thank you for sharing.

    • Ken Hwan | June 5, 2018 at 5:57 pm

      Recently my wife and I were involved in a car accident while on a trip, and we were very scared and didn’t know what to do. I wish I had read this article before I was in this accident, I really appreciated the section on what not to say during a car accident, luckily neither my wife or I said anything to anyone else! I will make sure to remember these tips but hope I don’t get in another accident!

      • Extra Mile Staff | June 6, 2018 at 11:37 am

        Ken – We’re glad you found this article informative!

    • Burt Silver | May 9, 2018 at 6:11 pm

      I like what you said about documenting and exchanging information after a car accident. It would also probably be good to mention that contacting an attorney can help out a lot. This way you won’t be taken advantage of by the other person involved in the wreck and you can probably defend yourself a bit better by knowing more about the laws and everything.

    • Sutton Turner | May 4, 2018 at 5:21 pm

      I am glad you said never to talk to anyone but authorities after a car accident. My brother contacted his lawyer after his fender bender. Thanks for the tips on what to do after a car accident.

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