Car accidents are a fact of life. They can be terrifying if you’ve never been in one. Whether it’s a minor accident or a fatal one, accidents can happen at any time. It is extremely important to understand what you need to do if you should ever find yourself in one. Some of you may roll your eyes here or just skip over this post because it sounds boring, but trust me, if you find yourself experiencing a car accident you just may wish you would have read this. In fact, my friend was just in an accident earlier this week. She told me she was unsure what to do after it happened. Plus when you are in an accident you are immediately shaken up and find it difficult to think and put ideas together. It’s important to know what to do and have a plan in place.
Many lifetimes ago I worked as a total loss auto claim representative. What exactly is that you ask? Well, I handled claims for people who had wrecked their vehicles so badly that they were beyond all repair. A total loss occurs when it costs more money to repair your vehicle than what it’s worth. Many people call it “totaling it out”. Now, totaling a vehicle can mean different things for different vehicles. For instance, a newer vehicle like a 2012 Honda Accord EX is worth about $19,000 according to Edmunds.com. To total this vehicle would mean that it would have to sustain about $19,000 in damage. That would equal a pretty bad accident for this Accord. Whereas a 1998 Honda Accord EX is worth about $3800. To total this vehicle it would have to have damage about $3800. It wouldn’t take much to cause $3800 in damage. So you see, totaling it out is just the ratio of damage over the value.
Every single day I spoke with people that were going through this sometimes life altering situation. Maybe their vehicle is totaled, their wife was injured, the other people were injured, they didn’t have adequate coverage, who knows? It is extremely important to be prepared for such events. You may not be able to stop them but you definitely can prepare for them.
To begin we are going to focus on accident preparedness. There are things to keep in your car that will help you, if heaven forbid, you are in an accident.
Keep an emergency kit in your glove box or trunk.You can either put one together yourself or buy a pre-made kit. Your kit should include the following:
- Road flares and or caution triangles
- Paper and pen
- a disposable camera (I know that you probably have a cell phone but what if you are low on battery or it goes flying during the crash)
- A card with medical information for all family members such as allergies or other ailments like high blood pressure. Here’s a form I found online to fill out. Print this out and keep it in your emergency kit.
- A flashlight with extra batteries
- Heat packs. If you live in a climate that experiences winter, then this may not be a bad idea to have. You don’t want to find yourself on a lonely road at night in the middle of winter if your car breaks down or if you are in a single vehicle accident.
- Body Heat Blanket. These are super inexpensive and well worth the purchase. They work well at retaining body heat. You may wonder why you would need such a thing but imagine you are on a country road at night in winter time. If you have a single vehicle accident and are all alone and injured, then this can help keep you warm until someone comes.
- Emergency Car Window Breaker. Again, you can never be too cautious. I have seen some wild and crazy things happen to people in accidents.
There will be so much going through your mind at the scene of the accident that you may not even be able to think straight. If you are injured then you really will have difficulty or you could be unconscious. But just remember to try and stay calm and call for help.
- If you are in an accident with no injuries and minor damage to your vehicles, then move the vehicles to the side of the road so that you are not blocking traffic. But before you move it, I highly recommend taking pictures of the accident scene. Take shots of the vehicles as they are, the surrounding location and the damages. It is really best to leave the vehicles as they are and let the police handle the move but sometimes you have to move them out of the way.
- Immediately turn on your hazard lights.
- Call the police. I recommend always calling the police. Some people won’t do that but trust me, you will want that accident/police report on file. Some police departments will not dispatch an officer unless there are injuries. Regardless, call anyway. The worst that can happen is the dispatcher will tell you to make a report online or by going into the police station. If they tell you this, then follow their advice and make the report at a later time.
- Set out cones, flares or caution triangles if possible. This alerts drivers of the scene so as to defer any additional accidents.
- Stay calm. I know how volatile emotions can be after an accident. I am guilty of it myself. But do try to remain calm. No matter who was at fault, BOTH parties have just been in accidents and it will do no one any good to get emotional, rude, vulgar or abusive with each other.
- Exchange personal information. You will want to exchange your names, phone numbers, addresses and insurance information including each other insurance company names and policy number. If you don’t have a pen and paper then take a picture of their insurance card with your phone. Also make sure to write down the year make,model, color and license plate of the other vehicle. Check to see if the insurance card for the other person matches the name and vehicle they are driving. For instance, they may hand you an insurance card that is for a 2003 Toyota Corolla but they are driving a 1995 Chevy Silverado. And when calling their insurance company make sure to tell them which vehicle the person was driving. You don’t want to file a claim under the wrong vehicle.
- Take note of the number of passengers in the other vehicle. I have seen many scams where a customer would rear end a vehicle then suddenly out of nowhere people jump into the rear ended vehicle. They do this to claim injuries and scam money from the insurance company. What was only one person driving suddenly becomes 5 people saying how injured they are.
- Take Pictures. It is OK to photograph the scene. Get your phone out or the disposable camera from your emergency kit, and take pictures of the scene. Snap shots of the damage to BOTH vehicles and the surrounding areas where it happened.
- Get witnesses contact information. Now, either you will do this or the police will. Most likely the police will, but if a witness says they need to leave for any reason then politely ask for their information and then forward it on to your claims adjuster.
- Don’t sign anything other than the police report if asked. It is not recommended to make a verbal or written agreement between individuals to personally pay each other for damages. I have seen so many things go wrong with this type of situation. Use the insurance and leave it at that. By going through the insurance companies, you are removed from having to deal with the other individual.
- If you are the driver who got hit, then call the other driver’s insurance company and file a claim. If you are at fault then call your own insurance company to file a claim. There is a very common misconception that you MUST file a claim on your own policy if you have been in an accident. This is not true. I have spoke with many people who were so angry that a claim was started on their policy! This happened because they called their agent and the agent filed a claim. They will do this whether you are at fault or not. Most people want to avoid a claim being filed at all costs because it could potentially affect their premiums.
- If you suspect that the other driver is uninsured then call your own insurance company ASAP to begin the claim process. Your insurance company will investigate the other person’s insurance history. They will determine if that driver is carrying coverage anywhere.
- And remember, just because you tell someone not to file a claim on your policy doesn’t mean anything. If Becky rear ended Susan, and Becky tells Susan not to file a claim, Susan has every legal right to file the claim on Becky’s policy. If there is a question of liability then the insurance companies will fight it out. That’s why you pay for insurance.
It is my hope that you never find yourself recovering from a car accident. But if you do it is my hope that the information listed above will be useful to you or anyone you know. Be safe!