Brakes slam, tires squeal, there is a moment of “oh no” and then a sickening crunch. If you’ve ever been in a crash, just reading that sentence probably feels triggering. Especially since everything surrounding a car accident is not only dangerous, but also stressful. On that note, we recently had a reader ask, “I was just in car accident. What are the steps I should take?” We wish that reader would have seen this article first. Because if they’re writing after the fact, they probably missed some important steps on the car accident checklist.
However, hopefully their question will help you ahead of any incidents that happen while you’re behind the wheel.
Especially since your actions in the moments immediately following a collision will determine so much.
Car Accident Checklist: Pre-Crash Must-Haves
Step One: Print this article and put it in the glove compartment of your car. We’re not kidding!
Emotions are typically at an all-time high when a crash happens. You may think you’ll remember all these steps in the heat of the moment, but odds are, you will not. Having something you can refer to will help keep you on track.
This is assuming that your injuries are minimal, or your car isn’t on fire. Obviously in severe cases, don’t worry about retrieving this list.
But if you’re in an accident and still functional, it’ll help to have this list and these other items handy:
- Keep copies of relevant auto documents in your car. That means your registration, auto insurance, policy agent’s name, and Driver’s License.
- Carry important medical information. While it’s not required for accident reports, it’s always a good idea to have ready for you and family members. This includes allergies, doctor’s numbers, and so on.
- Make sure your vehicle is emergency prepped. We’re talking flares, orange cones, and/or emergency signage. Also, consider keeping a flashlight, water, and blanket in the car.
- A notepad and pen. While everyone relies on tech toys today, sometimes they fail. If you’re in an accident, you’re going to need to write things down. And it’s better if you aren’t recording vital info on the back of a receipt or something.
Car Accident Checklist: 10 Things to Do at the Scene
If the dreaded moment arrives that you’re in an accident, the first thing to do is try to stay calm. Easier said than done, we know. But it will help if you don’t panic, so you can take these methodical next steps:
1. Check for injuries.
This means you and any passengers in the car. The most important thing is making sure everyone involved is okay.
2. Call 911.
If there are any injuries, then you’ll want to get assistance on the way immediately. This will also notify the police, whom you need to help document the accident.
3. Move to safety.
If you can drive the vehicle, move it out of the flow of traffic. If the car is not impeding traffic, turn on the hazards/set flares and leave it where it is. Move yourself and passengers as far away from the roadway as possible but stay at the scene.
4. Wait for help.
Wait for the police and/or EMT. When they do arrive, ask for a card and their badge number. Only speak to officers who can show proper identification. Also ask how you can later get a copy of the police report for the accident.
5. Do not admit fault.
To legally protect yourself do not claim responsibility even if you think it was your mistake. Leave fault determination to the police and insurance companies.
6. Gather as much information as possible.
At the very least, make sure you get the other driver’s:
- Full name, address, and contact info (phone number/email).
- Car registration and insurance ID card/policy number.
- Driver’s license and license plate number.
- Make, model, and color of vehicle.
7. Take lots of photos.
No, we don’t mean accident selfies (unless you’re recording injuries). But do try to get photos of:
- Damage to your vehicle.
- Damage to the other vehicle or vehicles.
- License plates of all cars involved.
- Skid marks, blown-out tires, or other potential causations.
- Surrounding landmarks like street signs, stop signs, trees, anything that identifies the location.
8. Talk to witnesses.
If anyone has stopped to help, or saw the accident occur, ask for their contact information. If possible, also get info from any passengers in the other car. These witnesses may offer important insights when determining liability.
9. Beware bandit tow trucks.
Don’t accept a tow from any truck you didn’t call. According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau, there are “highway bandits” looking for accidents. They then tow unknowing victims to unscrupulous repair facilities and charge exorbitant fees to get them back.
10. Contact your insurance company.
If you have time and aren’t too shook, contact your insurance company while you wait. The sooner they know what happened, the more they can help. If you can’t do it at the scene, do this step as soon as possible to start your claim.
Car Accident Checklist: Post-Crash Follow Up
Once you’ve left the scene, it may take a little time to process everything. That’s why it is important to have a follow-up car accident checklist as well.
Here are the things you should do in the weeks and months après crash:
1. Write out everything that happened.
Things can get blurry in the moment. But as soon as you are able, write out your account of what happened long form. This is so you don’t forget any details and can recount the accident with accuracy every time. Be sure to include important points such as:
- The date, time, weather conditions, and location of the accident.
- The direction you were driving and your destination.
- Where you were on the road and what you were doing? Were you at a stop sign? Turning? Waiting for a light? On a one-way street?
- What was the other car doing at the moment of collision?
2. Get (or file) a police report.
If the police did not make it to your accident site, then you should file a report yourself. In fact, in some states it’s required by law that you file a police report and also alert the Department of Motor Vehicles. Check with your state’s DMV to find out your post-crash requirements.
3. Document any medical treatment.
Keep track of both your physical and mental state after the injury. Also record any related doctor’s appointments or medical treatments you require.
4. Obtain a property damage assessment.
If your car isn’t totaled and beyond repair, you should acquire a valuation of what it will cost to fix.
5. Cooperate with your insurance company.
After the accident, the only people you should speak with about the accident are your insurance company and the police. Do not take calls from the other driver’s insurance or representation.
5. Consider retaining an auto accident lawyer.
If the accident involved major damage or personal injury, it might be worth having a no-fee consultation with a lawyer. Frequently insurance companies will try to settle claims quickly, but as a result you don’t get the compensation you deserve.
The aftermath of an accident can sometimes feel as traumatic as the crash itself. That’s true even if you follow the car accident checklist to the number. If you find yourself overwhelmed while dealing with the repercussions, let us connect you with a lawyer who can help.
Kimberly Dawn Neumann
Kimberly Dawn Neumann is a multi-published NYC-based magazine and book writer whose work has appeared in a wide variety of publications ranging from Forbes to Cosmopolitan. She graduated summa cum laude from the University of Maryland, College of Journalism. For more, visit: www.KDNeumann.com, Instagram @dancerscribe, and Twitter @KimberlyNeumann