What You Need to Know After a Car Accident

Knowing what to do after a car accident can make a huge difference. When you're in an accident, you should first make sure that no one is hurt and that there's no further danger. Once you know everyone's okay, you need to contact the police, exchange information, and document the accident thoroughly. Contacting your insurance company is also essential, and they may even advise you on what information to gather.

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D. Gilson is a writer and author of essays, poetry, and scholarship that explore the relationship between popular culture, literature, sexuality, and memoir. His latest book is Jesus Freak, with Will Stockton, part of Bloomsbury’s 33 1/3 Series. His other books include I Will Say This Exactly One Time and Crush. His first chapbook, Catch & Release, won the 2012 Robin Becker Prize from Seve...

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Written by D. Gilson, PhD
Professor & Published Author D. Gilson, PhD

Leslie Kasperowicz holds a BA in Social Sciences from the University of Winnipeg. She spent several years as a Farmers Insurance CSR, gaining a solid understanding of insurance products including home, life, auto, and commercial and working directly with insurance customers to understand their needs. She has since used that knowledge in her more than ten years as a writer, largely in the insuranc...

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Reviewed by Leslie Kasperowicz
Farmers CSR for 4 Years Leslie Kasperowicz

UPDATED: May 16, 2022

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The Highlights

  • After an accident, the health of you and your passengers is the most important concern
  • Documenting the accident thoroughly can help if the police report is inaccurate
  • It’s important not to admit fault — let the insurance companies reach that determination

While you may be a careful driver, unfortunately, accidents do happen. And when they do, it’s always best to be prepared. 

You need to do a few things to keep a record of the accident and steps you can take to ensure the insurance claim process can get started smoothly. Understandably, keeping track of everything can be challenging right after an accident.

Even before the steps listed here, the first thing you should do is pull off to an area of the road safe from traffic. Then, call law enforcement, and wait for them to arrive while checking on the safety of everyone involved.

Once all parties are safe, you can begin the post-accident process. This process includes documenting the accident, gathering information, and not admitting fault before you even make a car insurance claim.

One of the most important things is to exchange insurance information with any other drivers involved. If you need to get more insurance coverage or you just want to compare prices, enter your ZIP code into our search tool to compare rates today.

Let the Insurance Companies Determine Fault

Even if you believe the accident was your fault, let law enforcement and your insurance company decide. Car accidents can raise your car insurance policy prices for up to three years, with much higher premium costs given to drivers prone to causing accidents.

An insurance company adjuster will look into the details of the accident to determine the cause of the accident. Admitting fault clouds the process somewhat, especially in cases where both drivers are partially responsible. 

Put simply, assume you are not at fault until a decision is made.

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Exchange Information

Be sure to exchange information with the other people involved in the accident. Here’s a brief list of the information you might need:

  • Driver’s License – Get a clear picture of their driver’s license, with their full name and license number.
  • Insurance Card – Exchange auto insurance policy information with the other parties involved in the accident. Their policy number is especially important, as your insurance company may ask for their information.
  • Phone Number – Take down their phone number, in case a contact point is needed later on.
  • License Plate – Snap a photo of their license plate when possible. Frame the image so that the location of the accident is apparent if at all possible.
  • Vehicle Information – Ask the other parties involved about their vehicles’ make, year, and model. If you can access their vehicle identification number, take note of it.

Once you’ve followed these steps, it’s best to sit tight and wait for law enforcement to arrive to begin the accident report. Keep the information you’ve recorded organized and in a format that is easily deliverable to your provider.

What to do When the Police Arrive

When law enforcement arrives, take down their name, badge number, and phone number. While unlikely, this information may be needed later on in the process. From there:

  • As they begin their assessment of the damages, document the accident with photos. Take notes as needed, and record the process however works best for you. One of the most common complicating factors in an insurance claim is a poorly documented accident report. Law enforcement is one of many perspectives in a car accident. Be sure to record yours.
  • Once completed, ask for a copy of the accident report — the officer should also hand you a receipt. This receipt should direct you to the traffic division of your local law enforcement agency, where you can purchase a copy of the report electronically. The report will list the specific location of the accident and information relevant to each driver, including address and license number. 

The police report is one of the primary pieces of evidence used by insurance adjusters when determining the cause of an accident. Police reports can be imperfect, however. Auditing the report as it is done can help assure a report without bias.

Assess the Vehicle Damage

Depending on the damage done to the vehicle, you may need to call roadside assistance. If you have AAA, they can bring your car to an auto repair shop. Otherwise, call a towing company.

Some damage to cars is not obvious and should be assessed by a mechanic. Even if you believe your vehicle avoided all damage in an accident, bring it to an auto repair shop before taking it back on the road.

Take pictures of all cars involved in the accident from multiple angles. Because memory is imperfect, the images allow you to send an accurate history of the accident to your provider without the possibility of misinterpretation. In addition, photos from various angles with different lighting give your insurance adjuster more information, which can help determine the cause.

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Call Your Provider

Your car insurance company exists to help you in car accidents. Once you have the situation under control, call your insurance company or insurance agent and give them what information you have. 

Depending on your provider, someone may coach you through the steps needed to guarantee a fair assessment by their adjudicator.

Once you’ve contacted your insurer, the claims process has begun. Much of the claims process depends on what type of insurance pays for your car if you are not at fault and the other parties’ liability coverage. Depending on the disparity between coverages, the difference in motorist coverage can lead to some issues in an accident. 

Say your car repair damage is $10,000, and the other driver’s insurance policy only covers up to $7,500. That could mean you will be paying $2,500 out of pocket.

In theory, the other parties involved will also call their automobile insurance providers. But theory is not always practiced. For example, some might also be underinsured motorists or uninsured drivers, while others may try to avoid calling their provider to circumvent a possible rise in their premiums. 

As long as you have all of their information, though, the process should run smoothly whether they call or not.

Stay Calm and Remain Present

Tensions can be high after an auto accident. However, try your best to keep a level head. 

In the aftermath of a car crash, finger-pointing is typical. But this won’t help the situation. Instead, stay calm, avoid admitting fault, and avoid blaming the other driver. 

If you need to clear your head for a moment before getting organized, cool off safely, away from the road. Talk to other witnesses on the scene when ready, and do what you can to reduce stress. 

Depending on the accident’s severity, a day off from other activities may be necessary. 

A car crash can cause PTSD in some cases if the accident is severe enough. Nightmares and intrusive thoughts can occur and persist until treated. 

In short, if you feel you need a day of rest, take a day of rest.

Monitor Your Health

Always be sure to visit a doctor as soon as possible after a car accident. Delayed injuries are common, and if left untreated, they can develop into much more severe issues.

Some common delayed injuries include:

  • Shoulder and neck pain – Whiplash can cause delayed pain in the shoulders and neck and is one of the most common injuries associated with car accidents.
  • Back Pain – Like shoulder pain, back pain is also caused by whiplash. The force generated by a car accident is intense and can internally damage the muscles and vertebrae.
  • Numbness – Numbness in the ligaments may indicate spinal damage. In some cases, numbness is a prerequisite to back pain. In others, it is an indicator of a herniated disk.
  • Headaches – Headaches can take more than a few days to be correlated with the accident. Headaches are an especially worrisome indicator. In some instances, severe recurring headaches are a sign of a concussion.

Rather than self-diagnosing, trust the expertise of a medical professional after a car accident. In high-speed accidents, some form of therapy is common before full recovery. Motor vehicle accidents are one of the most common causes of traumatic stress.

Some less-apparent symptoms of bodily injury include mood swings, loss of appetite, and even bouts of anger. If you in any way feel changed after a car accident, see a trusted medical professional.

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