The most important things to do after a car accident are to stay calm, call 911 if anyone is injured and keep everyone away from traffic. You should then gather information for an insurance claim, including the other driver’s insurance information, witness contact details, and photos and notes related to the accident.
Key Things to Do After a Car Accident
- Call the police if there are injuries or property damage beyond a certain value.
- Don’t immediately admit fault or agree not to file an insurance claim.
- Exchange insurance information with any other drivers involved, even if it’s just a minor fender bender.
- Contact your insurance company.
What to Do After an Accident Causing Injuries or Significant Damage
A serious accident can be jarring, but it’s important to keep a level head and to protect your health and your rights. If anyone is injured or if either vehicle is seriously damaged, you will want to take these precautions:
What To Do After A Car Accident: 10 Steps
1. Stay calm
It may go without saying but don’t panic. A calm demeanor will make it easier to think straight and helps avoid a potential conflict with the other motorist. Make small talk with the other driver. It may calm everyone down and make it easier to discuss more serious matters.
2. Keep everyone safe and away from traffic
If the damage is minor and you can safely move the vehicles, it is probably best to move them off the road. Otherwise turn on hazard lights and set up warning triangles or flares if you have them. If there are no medical injuries, make sure everyone gets off the road and stays away from traffic
3. Don’t move seriously injured people
If someone is seriously injured, especially if there are potential spine or head injuries, don’t move that person unless there’s more danger in leaving them.
4. Call 911 & get a police report
State laws require that you call the police if anyone is injured or if property damage exceeds a certain threshold. You may also need a police report when you file your insurance claim. If you need to, be politely persistent with the other driver and the police officer that you would like a written statement. Make a note of the following information:
- The officer’s name
- The officer’s badge number
- The officer’s phone number
- The police report number
5. Get witness contact info
If there are willing witnesses, ask them for their contact information and ask them to wait for the police to arrive. If the accident occurred on private property, such as in a parking lot ask security or an administrator/manager to make a statement. You want to have a neutral third party account of the incident if at all possible.
6. Don’t admit fault
Don’t apologize for a driving mistake you may have made. Cooperate fully with the other driver and the police but do so without admitting your own fault or speculating, Stick with your personal account of the facts, and don’t sign any documents unless they are for the police or your own insurance company.
7. Don’t agree not to report
Don’t accept any immediate compensation or promises from the other driver to pay for the damage separate from an insurance claim. Don’t make any statement that the accident was too insignificant to act on. Immediately after an accident, you’re in no position to assess the extent of injuries and property damage that the crash has caused.
8. Take photos and take notes
Use your cell phone camera to take photos of the vehicles, the accident scene and any injuries. If you can do so safely, take pictures of the vehicles before you move them. While it is still fresh in your mind, write down the details of the accident as you remember them.
9. Exchange essential information
Make sure to get the other driver’s name and insurance information. The other driver may request personal information such as your home address, phone number and driver’s license number, but given the risk of identity theft, the National Association of Insurance Commissioners now advises that you only provide what is required by state law. In nearly all cases that means only the information on your insurance card:
- Your full name
- Insurance company
- Policy number
- The phone number for your insurance company
If the other driver insists on your providing more information, remain calm and wait for the police to arrive. Again, small talk may help.
10. Contact your insurance company
You are not required to call your insurance company from the scene, but you’ll need to do so soon if there will be any claims or if there are any injuries.
Do You Need to Report Fender Benders to the Police?
While it’s always wise to follow as much of our accident checklist above as possible, if damage is minor, and your insurance companies agree, calling the police might not be necessary. But you should only agree not to call the police if all of the following are true:
- No one is injured
- Property damage is minor
- The other driver accepts blame and has insurance
- You get the other driver’s insurance information in writing
- You talk to your insurance company and the other driver’s insurance company, and both insurers tell you they have everything they need
- You get a claim number from the other insurance company
How should you define “minor” property damage in this case? First, keep in mind that even seemingly minor damage to cars can be very costly to repair.
But more importantly, in every state drivers are legally required to file an accident report with the police if 1) anyone is injured or 2) property damage exceeds a certain threshold. You can find the property damage threshold for your state in the table below.
Minimum Damage To Report an Accident by State
|State||Min. Damage to Report|
|Colorado||any property damage|
|District of Columbia||$250|
|Maryland||a vehicle is not drivable|
|Nevada||any property damage|
Do You Need to Report Fender Benders to Insurance?
This is another case where you’d be accepting additional risk. Using our accident checklist above is the best way to protect yourself from the unforseen. The other driver may seem agreeable at the scene of the accident, but sometimes memories blur and stories change over time. If there’s a later dispute, it will be your word against the other driver’s.
If do you choose not to involve insurance, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself:
- Put any agreement in writing and get a signed copy. Your agreement may not be legally binding, but it at least documents your common understanding of who is at fault and how damage will be paid for.
- Get a signed receipt for any money that changes hands.
- Even if you don’t plan to file a claim, get the other driver’s insurance information.
Maybe you’re the driver who doesn’t want to report the damage because you’re worried about how it will affect your insurance premiums. If that’s the case, it’s important to remember two things:
- If you are not found to be at fault, there may be no impact on your insurance premiums at all.
- If damage is minor and there are no injuries, one claim to repair damage from a fender bender isn't likely to affect your rates much.
In any case, if you don’t file a claim right away, you have time to reconsider. Most insurance policies don’t set a fixed deadline for reporting accidents. You can probably still file a claim later if you feel you’ve made a mistake not to.
What To Do After a Single-Car Accident
If your vehicle is the only one damaged, there are no medical injuries, and you think the cost of repairs will not exceed the cost of your deductible by very much, you should consider paying for the cost of repairs yourself instead of filing an insurance claim. In the long run, the repairs may cost less than what you’ll pay in higher premiums due to the claim.
Ask the Experts
To gain more insight about what to do after a car accident, WalletHub posed the following questions to a panel of experts. Click on the experts below to view their bios and answers.
- Should a driver always report an accident to their insurance company, regardless of the scale?
- What is the most important thing to remember after getting in a car accident?
- Should a driver consider switching car insurance companies after an accident?
- Do you have any advice for dealing with insurance companies after a car accident, based on personal experience?