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What to Do After a Car Accident: Safety Precautions and Next Best Steps

According to the National Safety Council, 4.5 million people sustained serious injuries in automobile accidents in 2017 in the United States. 

If you ride in a car or drive one regularly, you have a high chance of being involved in a car accident in your lifetime. Before you sustain the trauma of even the dented fender or bumper tap, prepare yourself. 

Read on to learn what to do after a car accident happens. 

Before the Accident Happens

Knowing what to do after the accident means having the proper mindset and materials before the accident even happens. Be prepared with these items in your car:

Flashlight

You cannot predict what time of day an accident will occur, so always have a flashlight with fresh batteries. Change the batteries out every time you adjust your clock for daylight savings time.

Orange Cones

These take up just a little bit of room in your trunk, but they can help immensely when you encounter or are in an accident. You can mark out the scene so no one hits you or the other vehicles in the accident.

First Aid Kit

Keep a basic first-aid kit in your car to help with small wounds until medical personnel can arrive.

A Charged Phone

You always carry your cell phone already. Make sure your phone is charged before you drive so that if you do get into an accident, you’re not caught with a dead battery. You will need your phone. 

Paper and Pens

Always keep paper and pens in your vehicle so you can record important information after the accident.

Emergency Tools

The right, simple emergency tools can save your life and the lives of your loved ones in emergencies. In particular, seatbelt cutters and window smashers take up little room but can lead you to a clear path from a car in which you’d otherwise be trapped. 

What to Do After a Car Accident

Once the accident happens, you need to follow a few basic steps. 

1. Stop

If you’re at fault or if you think nothing really happened, you may be tempted to keep driving. Whatever you do, do not drive away. If you do not have insurance, the penalty you will incur for a hit-and-run will be much worse. 

2. Evaluate

Take a self-evaluation before you evaluate anyone else. You cannot help anyone if you are injured, so make sure you can take care of people before you try. Ask yourself these questions: 

  • Did your airbag go off, and did you sustain any injuries with or without it?
  • Can you move all your limbs?
  • Are you bleeding? 

Shock and adrenaline do funny things to a person’s body. They make you feel fine when you really are not well, so when an ambulance comes, even if you feel fine, do not refuse care.

Give the paramedics the opportunity to do their job and check you out. They will be able to detect injuries you cannot see. 

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Remember, you may be bleeding even when you don’t know it. Often, internal injuries do not show up for hours or days until after the accident, so just because you do not see bleeding does not mean you are not bleeding. 

If you discover nagging injuries even after a paramedic has cleared you, seek out an auto accident doctor. These doctors specialize in finding the problems that tend to lie dormant the first few hours or days after an accident. 

3. Move

If you’re able to, turn off your car and get out of it.

As you look around, be aware of your surroundings. Watch out for hazards like downed power lines. If you’re on a busy road, stay clear of traffic. 

If you are well and everyone in your vehicle is accounted for, check on the other people or cars involved in the accident. Ask about their victims. If anyone was thrown from the vehicle and you’re not injured, you can help by looking after that victim. 

4. Contact Authorities

Once you know you’re safe, call 9-1-1. If someone else saw the accident, they may have done so, but better safe than sorry. If you’re in more than a fender bender, call 911. If you’re not sure, call 911. 

If you’re hands down, absolutely sure you just had a minor accident and no one is hurt, still call 911. The dispatcher will send the appropriate police and medical personnel if you need them. 

Do not ever drive away from the accident. Do not allow the other party to drive away from the accident. You may be in a hurry, and everyone may appear fine, but by law, you must report the accident. 

If anyone involved in the accident seems especially opposed to police involvement, note the red flag, and call the police. That person may have a reason why he or she doesn’t want to talk to the police, and for that reason alone, you need to contact authorities. 

If, for some reason, the police cannot come, drive to the nearest police department and file an accident report. 

5. Mark the Scene

Break out those orange cones you’ve been saving in your trunk. Put the flashers on your car, and make the scene visible to passing traffic so no one runs over valuable evidence. 

Make a broad perimeter around the accident with the cones. Make sure you leave plenty of space for the evidence. 

6. Document the Scene

You may feel tempted to panic, but don’t. Work hard to stay calm and rational, even when the situation may seem dire. 

You may be at fault, or you may be the victim. No matter what your status, stay calm.

If your phone is intact, start documenting the scene. Take pictures if you can, and write down everything you see, smell, and hear. If you cannot physically write down the details, try to use a voice recorder on your phone. 

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Document everything. You never know what you’ll need. 

Once police officers arrive and have done their jobs, gather names and badge numbers of responding officers. Ask for a copy of the police report, and then start gathering information of the parties involved the eyewitnesses. 

You will need the following information: 

  • Name of parties
  • Contact information for all individuals involved
  • Insurance company and policy number
  • Driver’s license number
  • License plate number
  • Type, color, and model of vehicle

Make sure you share this information with the parties involved as well. 

7. Notify Your Insurance Company

This is one of the more unpleasant calls you’ll make, but you must do it. After all, you pay a premium for a reason, and your insurance company should not act put out or irritated when you let them know you need to file a claim.

Call your insurance company. Tell them what happened, answer their questions, and then let them take care of you. 

Be prepared to get a call from your insurance company representative or a claims adjuster. Remember, they’re just making sure you have a valid claim, so if you do, you have nothing to worry about. 

What to Not Do After a Car Accident

Along with the list of things you should do after a car accident, you should also keep in mind the things you shouldn’t do. You will be tempted to do one or all of these things:

Admit Fault

If you’re a genuinely good person, you may feel tempted to say “I’m sorry” or “this is my fault.” Do not apologize. Doing so admits wrong that you may not have done. 

Lose Your Temper

Keep your cool even when the situation seems completely unreasonable. Even if you are driving safely with precious cargo like your kids and a raging drunk hits you, stay calm. Do not escalate an already bad situation. 

Give yourself a moment and take a big breath. If that does not calm you down, do it again and again until you know you won’t do or say something you will regret.

Say “I Am Fine” or “I Feel Ok”

You may feel fine at that moment. But your injuries can appear later, and you do not want these words to come back and haunt you. 

Talk to Your Insurance Company Before You Talk to an Attorney

You can best understand your rights by talking to your attorney. Once a doctor or paramedic has cleared you, contact your attorney, and then call your insurance company. 

Prepare for the Worst

No one expects a tragedy. But when you plan for the worst, you’ll find yourself ready and informed about what to do after a car accident. 

To learn more about how to be ready for scary situations, check out the health section of our blog.