What to Expect When You are in a Car Accident

Of the almost six million car accidents that have occurred every year for the past five years in the U.S., approximately three million of those traffic accidents result in personal injuries every year (USDOT). With such a high number of accidents occurring each year, it is not unlikely that every American will experience at least one auto accident in their lifetime. Therefore, it is important to know what to do when you are involved in an accident.

There are several things that you need to do when you are involved in a car accident. First, stop your car. Do not leave the accident scene as hit-and-run policies are severe and can complicate your situation. If it is at all possible, move your car out of traffic to a safe place. If you cannot move your vehicle, use cones or flares and/or your vehicle’s hazard lights to alert on-coming traffic of the wreck and prevent additional collisions.


Next, check to see if anyone is injured. If someone is injured, call an ambulance for assistance. Do not attempt to move someone who is injured severely if you are not trained to do so. Moving an injured person can result in making their accident injuries worse. Use your judgment, though, as removing a person from a flaming car may worsen their injuries, but save their life. You should always move injured people if they are at risk of further injuries or death.

After making sure everyone involved in the accident is okay, call the police. It is your responsibility to file an accident report with the police. If the police do not arrive at the scene, file a written report at the police department as soon after the accident as possible. When talking to the police, do not admit guilt or put blame on others involved in the accident. Try to simply state the facts. For example, instead of saying, “I wasn’t speeding,” tell the officer how fast you were going, “I was going 45 mph in this 50 mph speed zone.”

If the officer issues you a ticket, sign it. Signing a ticket is not an admission of guilt; rather, it is a promise that you will appear in court to contest the ticket or pay the ticket at a later time. Refusing to sign a ticket may result in arrest. Before admitting guilt or paying a fine, it is a good idea to contact an accident lawyer so you do not inadvertently hurt your chances of collecting damages from the other driver later. An attorney can help you resolve these legal issues.

Do not rely on the police report alone for an investigation of your car accident, but also make and maintain a copy of your own detailed notes. If your case needs to go to court, these details will greatly assist you and your attorney as most cases take approximately 14-22 months to go to court. Therefore, you should write down everything about the accident while it is fresh in your memory.

Your notes should address the following:

  • time and date of accident
  • where were you going or coming from (why were you driving?)
  • weather conditions
  • police officer’s name
  • facts of the accident (were you or the other driver on a cell phone at the time of the accident?)
  • names and contact information for any witnesses
  • names and addresses of any passengers
  • place of the accident

The more detailed your notes, the better your chance of receiving the compensation you deserve. These notes will be useful if you need to contact a car accident lawyer to collect damages.

Part of taking good notes is taking good pictures. Again, do not rely on police photos alone for an investigation of your car accident. You should take pictures of the accident scene as soon as possible after the accident and from many different angles and distances. Take more pictures than you think you need. These traffic accident pictures will be used to show the overall context of the accident and assess the damages to each vehicle and/or person when you talk to the insurance claims adjustor. It is a good idea to contact an attorney to negotiate with a claims adjustor since insurance companies are trying to establish liability and limit damages when they contact you. A car accident lawyer has the experience to negotiate with insurance claims adjustors for the amount of money you are entitled to.

After the accident, you should exchange the following information with the other driver: name, address, date of birth, telephone number, driver’s license number and expiration date, insurance company and contact information, and written description of the other vehicle (the make, model, year, license plate number and expiration date, and vehicle identification number). To obtain this information, you and the other driver should show each other your driver’s license and vehicle registrations.

Finally, be sure to contact your insurance company as soon as possible after the accident. Most insurance companies require policyholders to file insurance claims immediately after an accident. The insurance company may deny you coverage if you do not report your accident promptly. In some cases, it is a good idea to contact an attorney to help fight for damages.

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