What to Do After a Car Accident

10 steps to reduce your risks

Last updated: November 2015

Whatever your reactions after a car accident (cursing might be the first), it’s vital to keep a clear head. These 10 steps could reduce the risk of further damage or injury, prevent hassles, and save you money later on.

You might want to keep this list in the glove compartment, just in case.

  1. NEVER leave the scene of an accident until you have exchanged information and (if necessary) talked to authorities. If you leave too early, you may be subject to criminal charges.
  2. Double-check yourself and your passengers to make sure no one is hurt. Even a minor fender bender can cause injuries that are not immediately noticeable. Summon medical help if there is even the slightest doubt. If someone is unconscious or has neck or back pain, do not move them unless they are in immediate danger.
  3. If there is a fire, or if you smell gasoline, get everyone out of the car as quickly as possible. Keep in mind that what looks like smoke doesn't necessarily mean fire. Some airbags are coated in cornstarch or talcum powder, and will produce a (harmless) white cloud when they deploy. Front-end collisions often damage the vehicle's radiator, causing coolant to escape as steam.
  4. If the accident is minor, move your car out of traffic. Turn off the ignition (even if the car is not running) and set the parking brake. Turn on the hazard flashers and put out warning triangles or flares, if you have them.
  5. Stand a safe distance away from the road and the vehicles while you talk to other drivers or wait for help.
  6. Call the police, especially if there has been substantial damage, if anyone is injured, or if someone is acting confrontational. Ask for the investigating officer’s name and contact information, and request the accident report number so that you can follow up. Some states require a police report if there are any injuries or damages beyond a specific monetary amount.
  7. Stay calm. Don’t admit blame and don't argue over who is at fault.
  8. Obtain the name, address, phone number, driver’s license number, plate number, and insurance information of any other drivers involved in the accident, along with the names of anyone with injuries and any witnesses. You can use your cell phone camera to photograph plates, driver's licenses, registration, and insurance cards.
  9. If possible, take photos of the scene and the damage to the vehicles. You may want to photograph the area of the accident to show skid marks or other evidence of what  happened. Draw a diagram showing the cars’ positions while the accident is still fresh in your mind.
  10. Contact your insurer right away. You should find a phone number for the claims department on your insurance card.

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