10 Steps You Must Take If You've Been in a Car Accident

Getting in a car accident can be one of the most unnerving moments in a person's life. The unexpected has just happened. If you're lucky, no one has been injured.

Then comes all of the hassles that can be part of being in an accident: filing police reports and insurance claims, getting your car fixed or replaced, and many other things. Remembering what steps to take can be difficult. Here are some things drivers should do after a car accident. (See also: What to Do (and Not Do) When You're in a Car Accident)

1. Stop

Don't drive or run away from the scene of the accident — you could be arrested for leaving, even if it's minor.

If your car is still operable, drive it off to the side of the road and out of traffic. If you can't safely drive it, leave it to a tow truck. Assuming you can safely get out of your car, put warning flares out and turn your flashers on to warn traffic of your accident.

2. Seek Medical Care

Are you, or is anyone else in your car, injured? How about in the other car? If you think someone needs urgent medical help, call 911. Injuries often aren't immediately apparent in auto accidents, so you may need to see your doctor or go to a hospital emergency room a day or so later.

3. Call the Police

Even if no one is injured, calling the police is a good idea. They can help with traffic control so another accident doesn't occur, and can collect evidence, talk to witnesses, and file a report that will help both drivers with their insurance claims. Unless the vehicles interfere with traffic, they should remain where they are so police can determine what happened.

When talking with the police, tell them exactly what happened. If you don't know certain facts, don't fudge them and say that you're unsure. If an officer asks if you're injured and you don't know, say that you're uncertain instead of no. Pain from an accident can come hours later, so saying you're not injured when you don't know could be held against you later in an insurance claim.

4. Take Notes

To help your insurer, draw a map of the accident scene and write down property and vehicle damage. Also take note of the weather conditions, which can negatively affect drivers ability to travel safely. According to the Federal Highway Administration, weather related factors account for 24% of the 6.3 million car crashes each year. Get the names and phone numbers of any witnesses, as well as the other driver involved in the accident. Also be sure to get their insurance information, and write down their license plate number.

5. Take Photos

Even if you have a dash camera going at all times, get out your smartphone and take photos of the accident scene. Take videos if possible. Without getting in the way of the police, take pictures of any visible damage to the vehicles. If you can't get photos at the scene, take them as soon as you can afterward.

Some smartphone apps have insurance reporting tools that help collect photos, audio, and provide checklists of what to do after an accident.

6. Exchange Information

If police are on the scene, they'll be gathering contact information from everyone involved in the accident. But if police don't respond, you should still get the name, phone number, and address of everyone involved, including drivers, passengers, and any witnesses. Don't stand between two cars while exchanging information — your cars could be hit by a rubbernecker.

Ask to see the insurance card of the other driver. If police are there, ask for the police report number so you or your insurer can get a copy of the report later.

7. File an Insurance Claim

Once you've received medical attention and are in a safe place, call your insurance company to file a claim. Your insurer should be available 24 hours a day, so contact them as soon as you can. A claims adjustor may need to see your car, either at your home or the repair shop.

If your car has a black box in it, your insurer may need access to the data port. These black boxes record vehicle data from the last 20 seconds before the crash and help determine how it happened. This information can include vehicle speed, wheel direction, when airbags were deployed, and if the brakes were applied.

Find out if you have medical benefits as part of your auto insurance coverage. If you do, you'll likely have to submit any medical bills related to the accident directly to your insurer.

8. Get Your Car Repaired

Your insurer should help you with a lot of this by recommending repair shops, and help you get a tow truck to the scene if necessary. They should also help you get a damage appraisal, and tell you when, if at all, you'll have to pay a deductible for repairs. If your car is totaled, ask when you can expect to receive a check.

If you have rental car coverage, they can also help you arrange for a rental to use while your car is in the shop.

9. Keep a File

To keep track of all of the paperwork, start a file with the insurance claim number on it so you can keep on top of what's happening with your vehicle. It should include the contact information for the claims adjustor who is handling your case, along with contact information for everyone involved in the accident. Also keep receipts for your rental can and other related expenses.

Your insurance company should be your first contact to make sure everything is being done to fix your car and your medical needs are being paid for. Your insurance agent or claims adjustor should contact the insurer for the other party in the accident.

10. Alert the DMV

Within a day or so of the accident, contact your local DMV office and tell them your car was in an accident. This is required by most state laws.

After doing all of this, you should hopefully be able to relax and get back to driving.

Have you ever been in an auto accident? What steps did you take?

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