By Damon Poeter
Car accidents range from minor fender benders to catastrophic wrecks. It’s important to prepare yourself and others who might drive your car for what to do after an accident -- before it happens.
Here’s a step-by-step process to help you put everyone’s physical safety first, followed by your financial safety. It’s a good idea to think this through and rehearse it.
Step 1: Determine if you or your passengers are injured, then move to a safe location, if possible.
• If it’s safe to drive your vehicle, move it away from the flow of traffic to minimize danger to yourself and others.
• Position yourself away from the stopped vehicle(s) in a safe and secure location.
• Don’t leave the scene of the accident before completing the following steps, regardless of the circumstances.
Step 2: Call for help.
• If you or others involved in the accident have been injured, call 911 immediately and follow instructions.
• If there are no injuries and all parties are safe, call your local police department for assistance in filing a report and follow their instructions. In minor accidents involving another vehicle, the police may instruct you to exchange information and contact your insurance company.
• If you’re a minor, call your parent(s) or legal guardian as soon as you’re able.
Step 3: Exchange information if a police report isn’t being filed.
• Limit the information you provide to others involved in the accident to (a) the name and phone number of your insurance company, (b) your policy number and (c) your driver’s license number. Avoid sharing other info on your driver’s license such as your home address.
• Collect at least the same information from the other party involved.
• Note the other party’s license plate number; the make, model and color of their vehicle; and the names of their passengers.
• If there were witnesses to your accident, collect their contact information.
• Don’t exchange details about the accident and don’t let the other party try to pressure you into determining who’s at fault — let your insurance companies determine that.
• Take pictures of the damaged vehicles, insurance documentation, the scene and the people involved, if you’re able to do so safely.
Step 4: Leave the scene once information is collected and everyone is OK.
• If possible, return to your vehicle or go to a safe location and review the information you’ve gathered, making sure you’re satisfied before leaving the scene.
• If your vehicle isn’t safe to drive, call a towing company to retrieve your vehicle and make arrangements for transportation from the scene – from a friend, family member or ride-sharing service.
• If you’re in a rented vehicle, contact your rental car company to determine what documentation is needed before leaving the scene.
Step 5: File a claim and get your vehicle repaired.
• Contact your insurance company and file a claim via mobile app, online form or phone call.
• Arrange for repairs to your vehicle – if it’s repairable – and calculate your out-of-pocket costs for the work.
• Find alternate transportation if you need it.
You can’t always avoid a car accident, but you can reduce the risk of getting into one by following some best practices for safety on the road.
Additionally, keeping certain items in the car can help keep you and others safe in the immediate aftermath of an accident. Follow these safety steps and teach them to any young drivers in your care as well.
1. Pack a safety kit and keep these items in your vehicle:
• A fire extinguisher
• A charger for your smartphone
• Road flares
• A flashlight
• Food and water
• A first-aid kit
• Pen and paper
2. Always carry up-to-date copies of:
• Your ID
• Auto insurance policy
• Vehicle registration
• Health plan information
3. Maintain the safety systems in your vehicle, including:
• Air bags in older cars dating to the mid-1990s or earlier – non-deployed airbags in newer vehicles are designed to last for decades and shouldn’t require replacement
• Seat belts
• Child car seats – always strap kids in according to manufacturer specifications, and replace car seats after even a minor accident
4. Become a safer driver by:
• Avoiding certain habits that lead to distracted driving
• Taking a defensive driving course
Staying prepared and following the steps above can go a long way toward helping to keep you physically and financially safer after an accident.
Remember that car accidents can also be psychologically traumatic. If you’re experiencing such effects, consider consulting a mental health professional.
Want to learn more about filing a claim after an accident? Check out USAA’s FAQ that answers the most commonly asked questions about the claims process.
Automobile insurance provided by United Services Automobile Association, USAA Casualty Insurance Company, USAA General Indemnity Company, Garrison Property and Casualty Insurance Company, San Antonio, TX, and USAA, Ltd (Europe) and is available only to persons eligible for P&C group membership. P&C membership is generally available to current and former members of the U.S. Military and their former dependents. Each company has sole financial responsibility for its own products.
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