What to do when there’s an car accident

You have just crashed into another car … or a vehicle has banged into you.

A lot can happen between the time you step out of the car to examine the damage, and when you drive away from the scene.

Auto insurance policies spell out the duties of policyholders in following an accident. If the policyholder is not in compliance with those duties, the insurance company can limit or even deny coverage.

Make sure you understand your responsibilities. Completing the next five steps should keep you in compliance.

1. Call the police

Of course, your first step is always to make sure nobody in either vehicle was hurt, and to move your car out of harm’s way. If someone is injured, cover him or her with a blanket.

Once you have taken those steps, pull out your mobile phone and call the police. You want the accident to be officially reported. If there were injuries, tell the police, who will notify the nearest medical personnel.  

In some areas, police may not respond to minor crashes. However, it is still a good idea to call police.

If police do respond, it’s important that you know the police officer’s name, badge number and department, as well as the accident’s incident number.  In most locations in Central New York, this information is noted on an “Accident Information Exchange Form” provided to each driver by the police officer.

Also, if anyone was injured, make sure to tell the police officer. Ask the officer how you can get a copy of the accident report for your records. It’s likely you’ll need this if you file a claim.

2. Exchange important information

While waiting for the police, make sure to get the names and addresses of the other driver, all passengers and any witnesses. Some of this information will appear on the “Accident Information Exchange” form, but its a good idea to gather it anyway.  Getting this information up front can help prevent fraud later on, so be sure to ask for the other driver’s license number, name, address, phone number and email address. Also ask to see the other driver’s insurance identification card. Record the insurance company’s name, policy number, address and phone number.

Although it’s good to exchange key information, remember not to go overboard. Don’t discuss fault … who caused the crash, how it could have been avoided …with the other driver. Leave that for the police and the insurance companies. Also, avoid disclosing sensitive information, such as your Social Security number or financial information. It’s best not to discuss your policy limits or other coverage details with the driver. Keep that information between you and your insurance agent as well.

3. Record details about the other vehicle

In addition to gathering the driver’s information, document the make, model and license plate of the other vehicle.

A few quick cellphone pictures of the car and its license plate can help you record this information. 

4. Take notes and pictures of the scene

Documenting damage at the scene of the accident, along with specifics regarding the crash, can help the insurance company process your claim.

Also record all relevant details surrounding the accident as soon as possible. Write down accident details … how it happened, time, date, location, weather conditions … while they are still fresh in your mind.

If there are injuries, you should take note of them as well as where the injured parties were sitting in the car at the time of the accident. It may help to draw a diagram of the accident.

5. Call your insurer

Finally, once all details have been resolved at the accident scene, call your insurance agent

Your agent will tell you what information he or she needs. However, it’s likely to include:

  • A description of what happened, including the damage incurred by all parties.
  • Names and addresses of everyone involved.
  • Information about any tickets issued by police.

Please remember that time is of the essence. There may be a time limit for filing a claim, and you want to get it on the track for processing as soon as you can. Most insurance carriers simply require “prompt” notification. However, the sooner the company is notified, the sooner your claim can be settled, and the sooner you can receive a check.