AAA is expecting that 48.7 million Americans will travel over the Thanksgiving holidays. Most of those travelers will be on the road. While we wish you safe travels, it is also good to freshen up on what to do in case you are involved in a car accident.
Make sure you have your current insurance information and driver’s license. If your insurance company has an app, install it on your phone. You can pull up a copy of your insurance card, check on policy limits, get roadside assistance, and report an accident all from the app. It’s also a good idea to have an emergency kit in your vehicle that includes flares or pop up cones. Pen, paper, and a working flashlight in the glove box may come in handy as well.
Make sure the scene is safe. Do not leave the scene of the accident, but move to a safe area if you can. Make sure the car is stopped and in park and check surroundings for safety before exiting the vehicle. Turn on the hazard lights to alert oncoming traffic.
Check drivers and passengers for injuries and call an ambulance if necessary. If someone is injured, call 911.
Call the police
If there are no injuries, call the non-emergency number. It’s a good idea to program the non-emergency number for your area into your phone.
It is important to know that in every state the authorities must be notified and an accident report filed if anyone is injured, the accident is blocking traffic, and/or property damage exceeds a certain dollar amount. This amount varies by state. For example, in Colorado, Nevada, and Ohio, you must file a report if there is any property damage. In Vermont and Hawaii, however, the report is only required if the damage exceeds $3000. Texas has the damage amount set at $1000. Because of these variances, it is best to call the police.
Depending on the state and county you are in, the police department may advise you to exchange information with the other driver if there are no serious injuries, both cars are drivable, and both parties have all the correct and current insurance and license information. In this case, you must file an accident report with the police department within ten days of the accident. This is common practice in the larger metropolitan areas. However, if you are suspicious about the information you are getting from the other driver, call the police department back and request an officer come to the scene. Be prepared to wait awhile.
Police involvement can also protect you from fraud. Sadly, there are people who stage accidents to fraudulently collect from insurance companies. Generally, these are “start and stop” accidents where the driver in front of you starts to go through a green light and then suddenly stops causing you to rear end them. They will just want to exchange insurance information and not get the police involved. Police officers are trained to spot staged accidents so that you are not held liable.
Additionally, one of the most credible documents insurers use to determine liability is the accident report. Without a report, the insurance adjusters will have to rely on statements from you and the other driver to decide who was at fault and the percentage of responsibility each driver has for the accident.
Bottom line: Call the police. They will advise you how to handle the situation. Before the officer leaves, he/she should give you some documentation that includes the officer’s name and badge number, your case number, and may include your and the other driver’s contact information. Generally, the actual accident report will not be available for a few days.
Take pictures of the accident scene and property damage
Use your phone to take pictures and video of the accident scene and property damage. Take pictures close up of damage and from a distance to show the context. If there are skid marks or road debris, take pictures of that, too. Document the damage to the other vehicle as well. If you do not have a phone capable of taking pictures, consider keeping a disposable camera in your vehicle.
Get out the pen and paper from the glove box and write down as much information as possible. You may find it more convenient to use the note pad feature on your phone and take pictures of insurance cards, driver’s license, license plate, etc. You want to get:
Names of everyone involved (first and last)
Phone number, email address
License plate numbers
Eyewitness accounts and contact information
Location of the accident (street names, closest intersections, etc.)
Name and badge number of the responding officer
Expect to give your information to the other driver as well, however, do not give out your social security number or sign anything except the police report.
If you are a witness to the accident, try to stay on the scene until the police arrive to take your statement. If you cannot stay, give the drivers your contact information and if you are comfortable doing so, give them your account of the accident in writing or video.
Notify your insurance company
Regardless of fault, notify your insurance company as soon as possible. Reporting the accident ensures you get your side of the story on file. Most companies ate open around the clock so you can call from the scene of the accident or use the app on your phone to gather information and report the accident.
If you are at fault, your insurance company will want some information from you. If you are not at fault, you are not required to contact your insurance provider. Keep in mind, however, that the other driver’s insurer will do everything they can to limit their losses (i.e. give you as little money as possible) and actually have the power to decide on a liability split. It would be in your best interest to let your insurance provider fight that battle on your behalf.
Accidents happen whenever, however, and whoever. Be safe out there!