What You Need To Do After a Car Accident: A Complete Guide

What You Need To Do After a Car Accident: A Complete Guide

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When you get into a car accident, it's normal to feel frazzled. But knowing what to expect can help you with next steps. We've compiled an ultimate checklist so you can keep everyone safe, document the scene and communicate with your insurance company after an accident. Go through these tips now so you can best prepare.

graphic of 6 steps to take after a car accident
car moving to the side of the road

1. Move to a safe place

First check whether anyone involved in the accident has injuries. Call 911 if someone needs urgent medical care.

If no one is injured, then move to a safe spot and park the cars off the road for safety. Turn on your emergency lights to warn other drivers. If it's dark, find a flashlight to help you see.

police officer

2. Call the police and file a report

Even if there are no major injuries or damage to the cars, you should call the police and file an official report. You'll need this report if you decide to file an insurance claim. When talking with the police, only cite the facts without assuming details. Don't admit fault or put blame on the other parties involved, since police reports are only used to capture facts.

exchange information

3. Gather and exchange information

Although the police officer will get information from you and the other driver, you should also gather information in case you need it later. Write down the date and time of the accident, gather witness information, and collect the other driver's:

  • name, address and phone number.
  • insurance company name and policy number.
  • license plate number.
  • vehicle description, make and model.

Many auto insurance companies have created smartphone apps to help you document these details, which can help when you file a claim. If the other driver was responsible for the accident, you should also contact their insurer. Motorists who were at fault may not want to report the accident for fear of raising their insurance rates.

taking photos with camera phone

4. Take photos of the damage

If you have your smartphone or a camera with you, take photos of the vehicles and any injuries. This documentation can act as proof when you file your insurance claim. Make sure the photo quality is clear enough to observe the damage, and take photos of:

  • all four sides of the vehicles involved.
  • the individual damaged parts of your vehicle.
  • your vehicle’s VIN and odometer.

If you have a dashcam, download the footage and send it to your insurance company. This will be especially helpful if the other party refuses to assume responsibility. Live video footage provides more documentation and can prove the sequence of events.

insurance policy

5. Understand your insurance coverage

You'll need to understand what your insurance policy covers and whether the other driver's insurance will cover any part of the accident. The two types of liability coverage include property damage and bodily injury.

If the accident was your fault...
If the accident was the other driver's fault...
After you pay a deductible (which you choose when you purchase the policy), collision insurance will pay to repair damage to your own vehicle.The other driver's property damage liability coverage will cover damage to your vehicle, up to their policy limits.
If you, your passengers, or the other driver are injured in the accident, bodily injury liability insurance will cover your medical bills.The other driver's bodily injury liability coverage will cover your medical bills, up to their limits. While this coverage is required in most states, the "no-fault" states also mandate PIP, or personal injury protection.

Depending on the insurer, your plan may require you to first pay the bills and will then reimburse you for the costs.

What about no-fault states?

If you live in a no-fault state and you are at fault in an accident, your insurer will reimburse you for accident-related damage and medical bills, regardless of who is to blame. When the other driver is at fault, you must make a third-party claim through that driver's insurer. Puerto Rico and the following 12 states are no-fault states:

  • Florida
  • Hawaii
  • Kansas
  • Kentucky
  • Massachusetts
  • Michigan
  • Minnesota
  • New York
  • New Jersey
  • North Dakota
  • Pennsylvania
  • Utah

These states also mandate PIP, or personal injury protection, which compensates you for lost wages or medical expenses. However, you must file a claim with your own insurance company. PIP is generally more expensive than other states’ coverage plans, so be sure to understand the higher costs in these no-fault states.

notify insurance company

6. Notify your insurance company

Many insurance companies require you to immediately report an accident. If possible, call your insurer at the scene or right after to ensure you provide the most accurate information.

Also remember: Reporting an accident to the insurer is not the same as filing a claim, so this will not automatically increase your premiums. If you do move forward with a claim, you will need to pay a deductible first. In this case, your monthly premium will likely increase, even if the accident was not your fault. After filing a claim, your insurer will send you an offer with the payout they think you deserve.

There's no easy way to mitigate the cost of your increased rate after an accident, so financially brace yourself for any setbacks. Different insurance companies will raise their policyholders' insurance rates by varying amounts. However, a study by the Consumer Federation of America (CFA) revealed that Progressive and Geico most frequently increased premiums after not-at-fault accidents.

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.