If there's one thing that strikes fear into the heart of a driver, it's the thought of getting into an accident. Accidents can happen to anyone, and the risk is even higher if you’re relatively new at driving. According to the CDC, teen drivers are three times more likely to be killed in a car crash than older drivers are.
Most accidents, however, are not fatal. If you get into a fender-bender or minor accident, you'll need to clean up afterward. Do you know what to do?
Follow these steps to stay safe and make sure your financial and legal bases are covered after an accident.
1. Stay Calm
After an accident, you may feel a rush of adrenaline and emotions that will distract you from taking proper action. Turn off your car, take a deep breath, and count to ten. This will help you keep your head so you can focus on the things you need to do next.
2. Check for Injuries
If you’re driving with other people, check and see if they’re OK. Not all injuries are visible, so if anyone feels dizziness or pain, call 911 and ask for help. As calmly as you can, give the dispatcher your name and contact number, and tell them where you are and what happened. Don’t get off the line until help arrives.
3. Stay Safe
Be sure your car is at a full stop and turn on your hazard lights. Next, assess the safety of remaining in the vehicle. If there is the smell of gasoline or smoke, safely exit the vehicle as quickly as possible. Be sure to grab your emergency kit if you can do so safely.
Depending on the traffic laws in your state, you may be allowed to move the car to the side of the road to get it out of the flow of traffic. If you can't move the car, set up cones, reflectors, or other caution flares to warn other drivers and protect the scene.
4. Document the Damage
Take photos of the accident scene to show the location of the event and damage to your car. If it's safe to do so, take photos before any vehicles are moved (for example, in parking lots, low-traffic streets, and driveways). If it's not safe, photos can be taken after the vehicles are moved.
If you can, make a drawing of the crash site, precisely marking the location of each car and describing where they were coming from. Write notes about what happened, including:
Traffic at the time
Sequence of events
Also, look for any bystanders who witnessed the accident. Ask for their names, contact information, and their description of the incident. Their accounts will help clarify what really happened if insurance or legal questions arise.
5. Exchange Information
Calmly and courteously approach the other driver and ask to exchange contact information. Here's what you need to get, and what you should be prepared to provide:
Contact information, including address and phone number
License information, including the ID number
Insurance information, including insurance provider and policy number
Vehicle license plate number, make, model, color
This information will help your insurance company resolve any issues more quickly. It will also be important to share with law enforcement if they are needed on the scene or in the future.
6. Call Your Insurance Company
Contact your insurance company as soon as possible to report the accident and learn about next steps. Depending on your policy, you may have roadside assistance benefits. Be sure to follow your insurer's instructions about any repairs or towing to ensure these expenses are properly covered. Talk to your agent about how to file your insurance claim as soon as possible, if a claim is necessary.
After an accident, it's common to feel overwhelmed with lingering feelings of guilt or fear. If you're struggling, don’t hesitate to talk to someone about it, preferably a parent or a friend. You may also consider taking an IDriveSafely.com defensive driving course to brush up on your skills. This can be an important confidence boost to help you get back on the road if you're nervous about driving — and it can help lower your insurance rates, too!