Automobile collisions can happen so fast that it’s easy to become disoriented, and you may not be thinking straight immediately after the accident. So, what do you do next?
Ideally, you’re prepared and have your license, vehicle registration and auto insurance card readily available. It’s also a great idea to keep an emergency kit in the vehicle just in case you need it. While every crash is different, you should always follow these five important steps.
1. Safety First
The first step is to secure the scene. If the vehicles are drivable, move them to the shoulder or as far away from traffic as possible and turn on your hazards to warn other drivers. Assess the situation and check to see if anyone has been injured. If so, dial 9-1-1 immediately to get medical help.
It’s worth investing in road flares and orange warning cones or reflective triangles to further warn other drivers. Crack the flares and place them in front of and behind the vehicles along with the cones or triangles.
2. Call the Police
The second step is to call the police – even if it’s just a minor collision – to file an official report documenting the incident.
The police will speak with and collect information from all drivers, passengers and witnesses to the accident. They will note the precise location, the date and time of the accident and document all injuries and damage to property. You’ll be asked to provide your driver’s license, vehicle registration and proof of car insurance. The police will then take this information and complete their official report.
Accident reports vary by state, but the California Department of Motor Vehicles outlines state guidelines in an easy to reference accident guide and many of these apply to most situations. Police reports can take anywhere from a few days up to a few weeks to complete, depending on the complexity of the accident. Always ask for a copy of the accident report number and note the names and badge numbers of the responding officer(s), so you can request a copy of the report once it is available.
3. Gather Information and Document the Damage
While the police are on their way it’s important to exchange information with the other drivers involved. Use your smartphone to take photos and gather the necessary details. You’ll need the contact information of the driver(s) involved, any passengers, the registered owner of the vehicle(s) and any witnesses, the make and model of their vehicle(s) and license plate number(s), as well as their insurance information. If you don’t have a smartphone, keep a pen and notebook handy in your glove compartment.
Take pictures of the damage you can see and the scene of the accident as you observe it. This will provide protection against false claims. Write down the events as you remember them, describing the collision in as much detail as possible. You should also take pictures and video of all of the drivers and their passengers. Doing so will help the police and your insurance company.
4. File a Claim
You should file a claim with your insurance company as soon as possible. They will need the same information provided to the police. Even if you’re in a minor fender bender, report it so you’re protected against unforeseen or future claims, because sometimes injuries and damage aren’t readily apparent.
You should also make your insurance agent aware of the accident, as he or she can help spot red flags and help resolve problems.
5. Know Your Rights as a Driver
Familiarize yourself with state laws and know your rights. Accident claims in California are regulated by the California Department of Insurance, and drivers’ rights under the Fair Claims Settlement Practices Regulations (www.insurance.ca.gov) mandate that insurance companies must:
- Advise you of benefits, time limits and coverage;
- Acknowledge and investigate a claim while providing forms and instructions within 15-days;
- Respond to communications within 15 days;
- Accept or deny the claim after it is filed;
- Pay reasonable towing expenses;
- Offer a fair settlement reflecting covered damages;
- Pay the claim no later than 30-days from the settlement date; and
- Advise you whether or not they’ll recoup costs from the other party.
It pays to do your homework before you choose an insurance company. Check reviews to see what their current customers are saying about the company, make sure they offer 24/7 claims service, and check to see if they stand behind the repairs made by their body shops. Mercury Insurance, for example, guarantees all repairs made by their direct repair facilities for as long as you own your vehicle.