1. Check for injuries
After the car accident, immediately determine whether anyone is injured. If so, call 911 to get an ambulance and police on the scene. Even if the incident was minor and everyone is cooperative, consider calling the police. That way you’ll have an official report to give to your insurance company.
2. Move to a safer area
If the vehicles involved are still operational, get them to the shoulder or off the main road. Make sure to pull completely off the road to avoid being hit by approaching vehicles. If you have flares or reflective emergency triangles, set them up to warn other cars. If there appears to be a danger of explosion, get everyone out of the way.
3. Exchange information and document the crash
State laws vary on how much information you’re expected to give at the scene of an accident. Generally, you need to provide only your name and your insurance information to any other drivers involved. While you might want to hash out the details of the crash with the other driver, it’s best to limit your interaction so you don’t admit guilt or blame the other person.
Still, you’ll want to get as much information as you can, including:
- Name and insurance information of the other driver.
- The other driver’s telephone number, if they are willing to provide it.
- Witness contact information.
- Photos of any damage.
- Police report number.
- Police officer’s name and telephone number.
- Personal notes on what happened during the incident.
The National Association of Insurance Commissioners offers WreckCheck, a free app that records the time of the accident, lets you create written and audio details, and emails everything to you or your agent. In addition, several car insurance companies offer free smartphone apps to help you document the details of the crash.
Don’t have a smartphone app, but have a pen and paper handy? Draw a diagram of the scene and make notes about how the accident occurred, including the direction in which each vehicle was traveling.
4. Decide whether to file a claim
If an accident was your fault and the damage looks minor, it’s tempting to offer to pay cash for the other driver’s repairs. But it might be costlier than you think. According to Consumer Reports, a number of test crashes at just 10 mph produced damage that looked minor but priced out at $3,000 to $6,000.
You might still have to use your own insurance upfront, even if a crash was the other driver’s fault. Here’s how it works:
- File a claim with your insurance company and be prepared to pay a deductible. Your insurer will communicate with the other driver’s insurance company and refund your deductible if needed.
- If you live in a no-fault state, your own PIP coverage pays for injuries to yourself and anyone in the car with you. (You’d still have the right to sue for serious injuries later.)
- The other driver’s insurance company will investigate whether its client was at fault. After that, either you’ll be asked to get a repair estimate or an adjuster will assess the damage.
- The company may cover medical costs unless you live in a no-fault state. But in both cases you’ll be reimbursed only up to the at-fault driver’s liability limits.
- If that’s not enough to pay all the bills, you could turn to your own collision coverage, if you have it, or your own underinsured motorist coverage, which is not required in every state. Deductibles likely apply for both.