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Car accidents are sudden, jarring events. That’s why understanding what to do in a car accident is so challenging. You’re fighting adrenaline and likely feel shaken and nervous. However, and unfortunately, car accidents are a “when” not an “if” type of event in life. So even if it’s been decades since you were in an accident, that could change any time you get behind the wheel.

When you do find yourself in a daze after a crash, here are the steps you can take to safely document what happened and help with any damage claims that follow.

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Step 1: Preparation

You can take preliminary steps to make what to do in a car accident much easier. The time to find supplies and search the web for a checklist is not at an accident scene!

If you haven’t done so already, ensure that the following is in your glove box:

  • Registration
  • Proof of insurance
  • Accident checklist
  • Pen and pad of paper

Consider purchasing a vehicle accident kit. You can find these kits through AAA or on safety websites. They look like overkill now, but the items in the kits can prove vital if you’re in an accident. You never know when you may need a flashlight, poncho, or reflective signage. Sometimes, the most crucial thing in what you do in a car accident is laying out safety equipment and making it easier to get help.

An accident checklist helps you complete all necessary steps to file a property damage claim. You can make your own, but your insurance company may offer a printable checklist or maintain one in its phone app. For example, Geico offers this easy printable brochure to keep in your glove box.

Step 2: Stay at the Scene

The best tip for what to do when you get in a car accident is this: never leave the scene. You can pull to the side of the road or turn into a parking lot for safety, but speeding off and leaving the location is a crime. If an officer reports to the accident scene, ask them if it’s okay to go before doing so.

Step 3: Act on Injuries

A primary concern in what to do in a car accident is ensuring that anyone who needs medical attention gets it.

Check yourself and any passengers for injuries. Once you confirm their safety, check in with the other drivers and passengers. Unless someone is trapped in a burning car, don’t move injured people. Call 911 immediately.

Step 4: Call the Police

This step is often neglected when it comes to deciding what to do if you get in a car accident. But police reports can be essential evidence in insurance claims and help you in uninsured/underinsured accident cases.

If you call 911 because someone’s been injured, the police will dispatch to the scene with an ambulance. But if no one is injured, call the police, especially if another driver seems intoxicated or behaves belligerently. State laws require police presence if damage exceeds a certain amount–usually $1,000 but sometimes less. Since you can’t make an accurate damage estimate at the scene, err on the side of caution and get law enforcement involved.

Step 5: Exchange Information

Evidence and information are vital when deciding what to do in a car accident. That includes gathering this information from other drivers:

  • Full names and contact information
  • Insurance company and policy number
  • Driver’s license number
  • License plate number
  • Make, model, and color of other vehicles
  • Accident location, including cross streets

Thanks to mobile devices, you can record this information through pictures and video. That is often easier if you feel shaken and fearful that you may write something down wrong. So, click away. Take photographs of the scene, license plate numbers, and cars, and even use your photo app to scan insurance documents and driver’s licenses.

Step 6: Gather Evidence

Ask officers for their cards and badge numbers so you can order the police report later. If there were witnesses, get their names and contact information. Immediately document any statements. For example, you’ll definitely want to record any witness who says, “I saw that driver run the red light, and I was afraid they’d hit you!”

Once you have a quiet moment, write down everything you remember about the accident or create a voice memo or video on your phone describing everything if you do not feel up for writing. An important part of knowing what to do in a car accident is documenting facts and perceptions before forgetting them.

Ready For What To Do If You Get in a Car Accident?

Now that you know what to do in a car accident, you should feel reasonably prepared. But none of us are perfect, and if it doesn’t go well or you’re facing resistance in recovering your losses, you should consider getting expert legal help. Get started with a free initial auto accident review as you plan your next steps.

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