Bike accidents happen, even when you’re following all the rules of the road. It happened to me as I was commuting home from work: An elderly woman, blinded by the sun, didn’t see me as she was making a left turn. The collision wrecked my bicycle, but I emerged with just a scraped elbow and knee.

Getting into an accident with a car when you’re on a bike can be frightening, but it’s important to remain levelheaded. What you do immediately afterward can affect what you can recover for your injuries and damage to your bike. Here are 10 tips culled from "Bicycling & The Law: Your Rights as a Cyclist," by Bob Mionske, a cycling lawyer and former Olympic cyclist.

Steps to take after a collision

  1. Get off the road. This is essential to prevent more damage from occurring.
  2. Record contact information. Get the driver’s phone number and the numbers of any witnesses. Use your cell phone to text or e-mail this information to yourself. If you are injured and cannot get this information yourself, ask a bystander to do it for you.
  3. Capture a license plate number with your phone camera and take a photo of the vehicle and the scene of the accident. Include your bike and any injuries you may have sustained.
  4. Don’t negotiate with the driver. He or she may apologize and accept blame, but many people have second thoughts about it afterward and may even deny having been at the scene of the accident.
  5. Call the police (911) and wait for an officer to arrive so that you can file an accident report, even if you don’t think you’re injured. Cyclists sometimes don’t realize they’re hurt until several hours later. Police should interview you as well as the driver and any witnesses. If they don’t take down your version of what happened you can file an amended report later. Police may ticket the driver, which can be useful when settling the case with the insurance company.
  6. Jot down the details of the accident, including what happened, when, and why. Then text or e-mail it to yourself.
  7. Don’t repair your bike. And don’t throw away damaged equipment or clean your clothing. Wait until the accident has been resolved.
  8. Record any aftereffects, such as headache or muscle pain.
  9. Consider consulting with a personal injury attorney who specializes in bike-related accidents if you were injured. Sometimes a letter from an attorney will resolve issues and avoid legal pitfalls. Many cases are settled without ever going to trial.
  10. Learn from what happened to you. My bike accident last year wasn’t my first, and now I do things differently, such as signaling well in advance of turning, wearing visible clothing, equipping my bike with lights, and making eye contact with drivers when stopped at an intersection. If you're interested in learning more about bike safety you can sign up for a League of American Bicyclists cycle instructor course in your area.

After my accident, I exchanged phone numbers with the car driver. She then called her daughter and son-in-law, who showed up right away. They offered me a ride home, which I declined. But I did accept the woman’s offer of a replacement bike, which I bought as soon as I got her check in the mail.