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In 2013, the most recent year for which complete statistics are available, 2.3 million people in the United States were injured as a result of car accidents, and another 32,719 were killed. The leading cause of those accidents was driver error, which can include everything from speeding to unsafe lane changes and distracted driving. Regardless of the reason for a car accident, though, it is a traumatic experience that is often exacerbated when emotions are allowed to take control. However, by remaining calm, pulling to the side of the road, and taking the appropriate steps directly after impact, further injury or loss can be prevented, and you can help expedite the investigation and insurance claim. That way, you can get back to life as you know it that much sooner.
Assess Injuries and Danger
Immediately after the accident, it is critical that you move your car off the road, if possible. Sometimes a vehicle is rendered immobile after a car accident, and if that’s the case use discretion about whether or not to exit the vehicle. If the surrounding traffic makes it too dangerous to get out of the car, remain inside with your seatbelt still fastened. Call 911 for immediate assistance.
If you are able to safely exit the vehicle, and the situation allows for it, do a quick assessment of both your passengers and the passengers in the other vehicle(s). If immediate first aid is required, assist with what you can, but do not attempt to extract injured people, as it may worsen the injuries. The exception to the rule would be if there are liquids leaking from the vehicle, or there is smoke or fire. In such extreme circumstances, use discretion when deciding how much assistance you can safely offer. Once an initial assessment has been made to determine whether or not there are life-threatening injuries or a life threatening situation, move to the side of the road and call 911 if you haven’t already done so.
Depending on the circumstances in which you find yourself, you may or may not be able to safely take pictures of all involved vehicles. If you can, however, make sure to get shots of the following areas: driver’s and passenger’s sides, front and rear, all corners, and the license plate. In addition, take photos of the surrounding area, including landmarks, buildings, street and traffic signs, accident-related debris, damaged property, and skid marks.
If you and the other driver are able to calmly exchange information, do so. Provide your name, address, telephone number, driver’s license number, vehicle registration, and vehicle insurance information. Ask the other driver for the same set of information. Also jot down the make and model of the other vehicle to go along with your photos. Since emotions will be heightened, it will be easy to forget what information is needed, so keep a checklist in your vehicle at all times.
As soon as is reasonable, contact your insurance company with the details of the accident and forward to your agent all of the information you have, including the photos. A final note about exchanging information: never admit fault during the course of the conversation. Allow the police and insurance companies to make that determination.
The period directly following a car accident can be a time of fear, confusion and uncertainty. However, if you remain calm, keep safety in mind at all times, and document the incident thoroughly, you will save time and frustration, and you will be back on the road before you know it.