The Most Important Steps to Take Immediately After a Car Accident
Car accidents can happen to anyone, regardless of how careful you are. Even the most cautious, rule-abiding driver can still be blindsided by someone who isn’t as attentive. But while serious accidents can be fatal, most car collisions are, thankfully, not so severe. After most accidents, you and your passengers will be able to walk away.
That said, the adrenaline rush from an accident causes most people to act inappropriately, miss key steps, or otherwise fail to get the help, recovery, or compensation they deserve. Immediately after a car accident, there are several steps you’ll want to follow to ensure you get everything you need, from visiting a hospital to contacting an attorney who specializes in car accidents.
First, try to remain as calm as possible. After an accident, especially if you’re hurt, you’re going to be confused, frightened, and possibly angry. These emotions are natural, but they can override your decision making, and make things worse for you in the long run. Try to take deep breaths, and think as clearly and logically as possible.
Get to Safety and Call for Help
Next, get to safety. If your car is still drivable, move it to the side of the road, or somewhere it can’t cause further accidents. Get any other drivers to do the same. If your car is unmovable and the road is busy, it may be best to put on your hazard lights and stay put until it’s safe to move to the side of the road. If there are any people hurt in the accident, it’s important to call an ambulance right away.
In the days and weeks following the accident, it’s important to get any and all medical attention you need, even if your injuries don’t seem severe; be sure to document every appointment you make.
Take Photos (and Video)
In the near future, you may need evidence to prove your side of the story, either because you’re trying to demonstrate the chain of events that led to the accident or because you need to show the extent of the damage that resulted from the accident. Either way, eyewitness accounts are generally considered unreliable (and could be contradicted by the other party), but photographic and video evidence are almost impossible to refute. If you have a dashcam, collect and back up the footage immediately. If not, capture as much of the scene as possible. Be sure to get visuals of every car involved in the accident, from multiple angles, and try to capture your surroundings as well; sometimes, damage to a nearby object or the placement of a skid mark can illustrate exactly how an accident went down.
If the other driver looks like they’re trying to flee, do everything you can (while preserving your own safety) to take down their license plate information. Otherwise, make an effort to get their basic information. Get their name, address, driver’s license, insurance information, and license plate number at a minimum, as well as a phone number where they can be reached. It’s also a good idea to jot down the names of the passengers in the car (in case someone tries to slip in an extra party later).
Depending on the nature of the accident and your location, you may also want to talk to eyewitnesses. They may be able to verify and/or support your version of events.
Get a Police Report
Always get a police report after an accident. Even if you and the other driver politely agree to a single version of events, and even if the case seems straightforward, a police report is the best way to ensure the solidification of these details. It’s going to serve as the official record of the accident moving forward, and will hold more authority than driver or witness reports. Make sure to answer their questions honestly, and review the report to make sure you agree with all the details before it’s finalized.
Talk to a Lawyer
After leaving the scene of the accident, you’ll likely begin talks with the insurance company. But before you accept a settlement offer, especially if you were injured in the accident, it’s a good idea to talk to a lawyer. A lawyer will be able to guide you on the best steps to take next, whether that means negotiating the insurance settlement offer or suing for further damages.
Car accidents aren’t fun to deal with, but if you remain calm and proceed logically and thoroughly, you should be able to get everything you need to recover. If you’re reading this without an accident in your recent past, consider investing in a dashcam, which will keep an objective record of all future events you encounter on the road.