Car accidents happen without warning and can leave you feeling scared, stressed and a bit scattered. That’s why it's important to prepare for situation when you are levelheaded to help make the moments after an accident less stressful.
Be prepared for whatever might happen. Consider the following easy steps to help ease the burden and shock after an accident:
- Pack a safety kit.
- Keep important documents at the ready (ID, additional insurance company contact information, vehicle registration, health plan information, etc.).
- Have your phone on you and charged whenever you hit the road.
- Keep loose items in the center console or glove box, and not on the seats, where they can get lost or fly around in an accident.
What you should do
If you are involved in an accident, you will need to assess the situation to determine whether it is necessary to call the police right away. There are a few things you need to do to make sure you are protected.
1. Stop your vehicle and get out. Make sure your car is not moving. Shift into park and turn off the engine or set the hand brake if you drive a manual. Take a moment to catch your breath. Check to make sure it's safe to get out of your car before opening the door.
2. Move to a safe area (if you can). If it's safe to do so and you aren't seriously injured, move your car out of further harm's way, like to the shoulder of the road. If moving your car isn't possible, turn on your hazard lights to warn other drivers that your vehicle isn't going to move any time soon. If you have flares or similar road safety items, consider using them.
3. Check on others involved. Check on all the other parties involved, including drivers, passengers and pedestrians, to make sure no one is hurt. Call 911 if anyone may be injured. A health care professional should check out even a seemingly minor symptom like dizziness.
4. Call the police to the scene. Whether an accident is a minor fender-bender or a major collision, calling the police is important — and in some states, it's legally required. Cooperate fully, but avoid admitting fault or blaming others while at the scene. If you were responsible for the accident, tell the truth, but stick to the facts and don't offer your opinion.
If the police can't make it to the scene (which is likely if there are no injuries), you can go to the nearest police station and complete a report yourself.
5. Gather info. It is important to get names, addresses, and phone numbers of everyone involved in the accident. A description of the car and license plate number can also be helpful, but make sure you also get their insurance company and the vehicle identification number of their car. Don't just assume the license plate number will do, because most insurance companies only record the type of car and the vehicle identification number, not the license plate number.
Try to write down as much information as possible, including:
- Driver and passenger names
- License plate numbers
- Insurance information
- Makes and models of all vehicles involved
- Contact information for any eyewitnesses
- Location of the accident
- The name and badge number of any responding police officers
6. Document the scene. If you have a smartphone with a camera, snap some photos of the accident scene. They'll come in handy during the claim process.
7. Contact your insurance company. Call your agent or insurance company's emergency claims number immediately. If you can call them from the scene, it may be even more useful.
File a police report
Filing a police report right away is ideal. While the law varies from state to state, many police departments allow reports to be filed up to 72 hours following an accident.
In Pennsylvania, for instance, drivers are required to complete and submit an accident report within fivedays of an accident, if the following apply:
-The accident was not investigated by the police.
-The accident resulted in death, injury or severe damage to any vehicle.
When a car crash involves the injury or death of any person, the drivers must immediately call the nearest police department.
If the police do not respond to an accident involving physical injury or serious property damage, it is each driver's responsibility to file an accident report with the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation . If you fail to report an accident to the Pennsylvania DOT, you may have your license suspended. In the event that another driver offers to pay for damages and asks you not to report an accident, you are still required to file the report in any of the situations outlined above.
Your report must include detailed and current information regarding your insurance coverage. If you did not have liability insurance when the accident occurred, your vehicle registration and driver’s license may be suspended for three months. Under the no-fault insurance system, you will be covered by your own car coverage policy, even if the accident was the other driver’s fault.
In some cases, the police will provide you with a report at the scene of the accident. If they do not, or if you misplace the report, you can request a copy of it from the Pennsylvania State Police. You must wait at least 15 days from the date of the crash to request the report.
To get a copy of your report:
- Visit the Pennsylvania State Police Department website, www.psp.pa.gov.
- Download and print a copy of Form SP 7-0015, Application to Obtain a Copy of a Police Report.
- Fill out the simple, one-page application, which asks for basic information about you, the crash and why you are requesting the report.
- Send the application and the $22 processing fee to the Pennsylvania State Police, Attn: Crash Reports Unit, 1800 Elmerton Ave., Harrisburg, PA 17110.
In some districts, you may be able to request a copy of your report in person at your local police department. You might want to call the appropriate station to inquire about its policies and fees for obtaining copies of crash reports.
The insurance company may request a copy of the report, and you can certainly share it with them if you so choose. In addition, keep a copy of the report at home in a safe location until your case is completely resolved.
Things you need to know
- Always stop if you are involved in an accident; this is your legal obligation. Even if you do not think there was any damage, any time you collide with something, you need to stop your car.
- Pay special attention to the potential risks of identity theft when it comes to your personal information. The other party needs your name, address and phone number to give their insurance company, but they do not really need your driver's license photo.
There is no way to be completely accident-proof; however, a few simple steps canmake a big difference in either preventing accidents or making them as minor as possible.
- Keep your vehicle well maintained to avoid sudden mechanical failures.
- Make sure your tires are up to date.
- Avoid distractions. Drive defensively.
- If buying a used car, look for models that have airbags and other modern safety features.
- Keep a pair of sunglasses in the car so you are not blinded by sun.