What to expect after an auto accident
probably going to be in a car crash some time in your life. And if you're in
your 20s, it'll probably be sooner rather than later. Really.
No one wants to think about getting into an accident. We all know
we're the world's safest drivers. But according to the National Highway
Transportation Safety Administration, in 2003 there were an estimated 6.53 million
police-reported motor vehicle traffic crashes -- 44 percent of those resulted
in injuries and 43,220 resulted in death. And of the almost 3 million people
killed or injured in police-reported motor vehicle traffic crashes in 2003,
1.74 million were of the ages 16 to 20.
Careful as you may be, it is still inevitable that some bozo is
going to be talking on his cell phone and will rear-end your precious vehicle.
Face it, the accident is going to happen, so let's learn what to do next.
Stop and get out of the car
First things first, check your own body. Take a deep breath,
count limbs, look for blood, and check for any aching parts. Oh yeah, and ask
those other folks in your car how they are.
With your body intact, get out of the car. OK, that could be easier
said than done. If your car has electric locks, damage to the engine could leave
you stuck. So the next time you get in the car, like tonight, read your
manual and find out how to open the doors manually. If your car ends up in the
water, due to veering off the road, escape by rolling down or breaking a window.
What if you sense there's more danger outside of the car?
"We don't recommend you stay at the accident if it appears someone
intentionally rammed you," explains Captain Chris Ricks of the Missouri Highway
Patrol in Jefferson City, Mo. "Drive to the nearest supermarket or a place with
lots of people. Under Missouri law, you are not required to stay at the scene,
but you must contact the police immediately." Laws in your state may differ,
so check them out.
Don't move your car if the accident scene is safe. However, if the accident
happens just over a hillcrest, you might want to move the cars so another car
doesn't come along and make the whole situation a bigger mess. Captain Ricks
recommends if you and the other party have to move your vehicles, try to mark
where they were.
Call 911. The dispatcher will ask you if there are injuries, if
the cars are causing a roadblock, and for a general description of the accident.
Most folks know that when you call 911 from a standard phone, the dispatcher
can see the address and phone number of your location. However, with a cell
phone, that's not possible -- so remember to tell them where you are. With your
one call, 911 operators can send out a veritable parade of rescue vehicles.
Get the facts, man
Insurance companies USAA, based in San Antonio, Texas, and
GEICO Direct, based in Washington, D.C., recommend gathering the following information
after a crash:
Get the names, addresses and insurance information of the other
drivers, and provide yours to them. USAA recommends also noting the number of
passengers in the other car(s), to prevent unscrupulous people from "adding"
passengers after the accident.
"Exchanging information before the police arrive gets people talking
rather than arguing," says Captain Ricks. There's no need to start placing blame.
"The police are good at determining negligence," he adds.
Talk to witnesses as soon as possible, especially if you think
you were wronged. You may need to get their names and phone numbers for the
police, because witnesses tend to want to leave. Tip: Keep a pen and small notebook
in your glove compartment.
Get as much information as possible, including the model, make
and year of the cars involved. Be sure to note the time, location and weather
conditions at the time of the accident. Write a brief description of the accident
for future reference.
Never admit fault for the accident at the accident scene. Both
insurance companies say it's OK to express concern about what happened, but
don't admit liability. Come on, you had practice with this when you played baseball
indoors and broke mom's favorite lamp.
To the rescue
You might be tempted to work out a really minor accident
-- such as scratches to your bumper -- between you and the other driver. Of
course, technically, the police won't mind because they won't know. Then again,
just try not telling the police.
So many drivers have cell phones that the police are notified
almost immediately when an accident happens.
"The law (at least in Missouri) says that accidents that cause
more than $150 in damages or any injuries must be reported to the police,"
reminds Captain Ricks. And your insurance company is going to insist on a police
report as proof there really was a crash.
When the police arrive, have your driver's license, registration
and insurance card ready. The officer will ask for information on you and everyone
else in the vehicle including phone numbers. He's also going to ask if you were
wearing your seat belt -- they have laws about that, too.
Finally it's time to tell your version of the story. Most
officers will ask what happened in the presence of both drivers. Captain Ricks
says this isn't to start an argument, but rather so the police officer can note
the reaction of one driver to the story of the other.
For your report to your insurance company, get the name of the
law enforcement agency investigating the crash, and if possible the case number
and names of the officers at the scene.
As soon as possible after the accident, contact your insurance
company. Most companies, such as USAA and GEICO Direct, offer a toll-free line
for reporting claims 24/7. Your insurance company is going to want a copy of
your documentation about the accident.
GEICO Direct suggests keeping the following items in your
car in case of emergency:
Pens or pencils
Paper or a note pad
First aid kit
Rag or paper towels
Captain Ricks does not recommend drivers carry flares in their
cars because they can be explosive. However he seconds the recommendation of
a blanket or other winter weather gear, because "in a snow storm, it may take
the police awhile to respond. Especially the first snow of the year, the police
usually have several calls. You may have to wait."
-- Updated: May 12, 2005