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What You Should Do After a Car Accident

All across the U.S., drivers count on their cars to get them everywhere they go. We are always on the move, always driving from place to place, and as a result, accidents are common. Your car insurance coverage is designed to protect you in the case of an accident. It is very important to have good coverage; but it is also important to understand what your role is when an accident happens. Being prepared ahead of time and understanding what to do in the event of an accident and how to properly respond can help you to better deal with it next time you are involved in a serious crash or a minor fender-bender.

Each year, millions of car accidents occur on U.S. roads. In 1998, there were 6.3 million accidents reported to police, with about a third of them involving injury [1]. There are many ways to cut down on the risk of getting involved in a car accident, but there is only so much you can do, and accidents do happen regardless of how safely we drive. Thus, it is critical to understand what your responsibilities are before and after an accident so that you are prepared to take care of your obligations if an accident should occur.

Prepare Ahead of Time to Better Deal with Car Accidents

It may sound backwards, but it is very important to prepare for car accidents in some ways before they occur in order to really be ready to deal with them after. Preparing for car accidents does not mean planning to have them or practicing having them; it just means doing everything you can to put yourself in the best possible situation to respond if you are ever involved in a car crash. A little planning ahead can go a long way when it comes to responding to accidents, getting your insurance information straight, and getting the claims process rolling in an efficient manner.

Every driver should keep an emergency kit in the trunk of their car or behind the seat of their truck. Emergency kits are useful not only when car accidents occur, but also when things like dead batteries and flat tires happen. A basic emergency kit can be purchased at most any auto parts store. It usually includes things like jumper cables and either flares, reflective triangles or cones. You can buy one for a very reasonable price, and should have one in every vehicle you own.

Supplement your store-bought emergency kit with other essential items like a pen and paper for writing down essential information in the case of an accident; a disposable camera for taking pictures of the accident scene for your insurance adjuster to review; a card with clearly printed medical and allergy information in case you are seriously injured and require medical attention; and contact information for local, state and county police and fire. You should also have a cell phone with you whenever you drive with these phone numbers preloaded so that you can access them quickly as needed.

You should also be very familiar with the specifics of your auto insurance policy. Know your coverage beforehand so that there are no surprises if you ever have a car accident. For example, you ought to know whether your policy includes coverage for uninsured and underinsured motorists. And you should know whether you have coverage for towing and loaner cars if your vehicle is badly damaged [1]. Find out about the specifics of your policy, and renew them as often as necessary to keep the details fresh in your mind. Adjust your coverage if needed to make sure you are fully protected should anything happen. Car insurance is only as good as the coverage it provides.

Tips for Responding After a Car Accident

If you are involved in a car accident, first determine whether it is possible to move the cars involved off to the side of the road. If the accident is minor and no injuries were involved, it is best to get the cars off the road to avoid more accidents involving other vehicles. If, however, the vehicles have sustained too much damage to move, place triangles or cones around them if you are able, then wait in the car with the seat belt buckled until help arrives. If you are injured, do not leave the car until you have been instructed to do so by medical personnel.

Once you are able to leave the vehicle and speak to the other driver (in cases where neither of you has to go to the hospital for treatment), exchange information to catalyze the claims process. You should take down the following information: the driver's name, phone number, insurance company and policy number; their driver's license number and license plate number. If the driver of the other vehicle is not the vehicle owner, find out their relationship to the owner, and get the owner's contact information as well [1]. Gather as much information as you can while you are still at the scene of the accident, so you can get the claims process started as soon as possible.

This is where the disposable camera comes in. if you have one at the ready in your glove compartment, you can take pictures of the accident for use later in working with your claims adjuster. This way, your side of the story can be more easily corroborated if it differs from the version given by the driver of the other vehicle. Try to get names and contact information from any eyewitnesses as well, if you can do this without compromising your safety or theirs. When you take pictures, try to include contextual photos of the exact accident scene including the physical location of the accident and all vehicles involved. All of this can be very helpful to claims adjusters who may not have access to this type of information otherwise.

Regardless of whether the accident was major or minor, be sure to file an accident report with law enforcement officials. In some cases, the police will not respond to an accident scene if the crash is minor and no one is injured. If this is the case, you can get a form to fill out from the local police department at the location where the accident occurred. Always file a report, even if the other driver offers not to get insurance involved and to pay for your damages out of pocket. Sometimes people change their minds after they get estimates back and see how expensive it might be, and you are always better off getting your insurance company all the information they need as soon as possible. Accident reports help auto insurance claims get resolved more quickly.

A common sense approach governs most of the planning to prepare yourself for an accident before it happens, and helps you better respond to it afterwards. Take the time to get to know your coverage, to stock your vehicle with the necessary materials to respond effectively, and always be aware of the importance of gathering all the critical information needed when it comes time to file a claim.

[1] http://www.edmunds.com/ownership/safety/articles/43805/article.html Retrieved 2009-12-07.

 

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