More than 10 million car and light truck crashes occur in the U.S. each year. Being involved in an accident, even a minor one, can be a nerve-wracking experience, so it's important to know what steps to take afterward. The process for dealing with an accident begins at the scene and making sure everyone involved is safe. Hopefully, you'll never be involved in a car crash, but if you are, this seven-step guide can help you know what to do next.

Key Takeaways

  • A car accident can be unnerving, so it's important to know in advance what steps you should take if it ever happens.
  • Auto insurance is designed to protect you financially if you're in an accident.
  • In the immediate aftermath of an accident, experts suggest you check for injuries, then try to get your car off the road and out of traffic.

1. Remain Calm

Keeping a cool head will make it easier to deal with the accident and its aftermath. 

2. Check for Injuries

Check yourself and any passengers in your vehicle for visible injuries. Call 911 or ask someone else to do so if it appears that anyone is hurt, either in your vehicle or another vehicle involved in the accident. If you're seriously injured, try not to move until help can get to you.

3. Get Your Vehicle Out of the Road

According to the Insurance Information Institute (III), you should clear the roadway if possible. Pull your car over to the shoulder if you can so that it's out of the way of approaching vehicles. If an accident happens at night, turn on your car's hazard lights so that other cars can see you. And if you can't move your vehicle, get yourself and anyone else involved in the accident to a safe spot away from the road.

An emergency kit that includes flares or reflective triangles can come in handy for directing traffic around an accident.

4. Check for Damage to Both Vehicles

If you're not injured and you're able to assess the damage to the vehicles, take time to do that. Try to take pictures showing the position of the cars if they haven't been moved and of the damage to each vehicle. If you can't take pictures, consider drawing a diagram to show how the accident occurred, while it is still fresh in your memory.

5. Report the Accident to Law Enforcement

If the accident is a serious one, the III recommends calling law enforcement to the scene. The police can create a report of the accident, which you can request a copy of for insurance purposes. 

6. Exchange Information With the Other Driver

State laws differ on what information you're expected to exchange with another driver after an accident. At a minimum, you would need to exchange names and insurance information. But you could also try to get other useful information, including:

  • The other driver's phone number
  • Make and model of the other driver's vehicle 
  • Name and contact information for anyone who witnessed the accident
  • Name, badge number, and phone number for any law enforcement officers who respond to the accident scene

7. Decide Whether to File an Insurance Claim

Car insurance is designed to protect you financially if you're involved in an accident. Unless you live in the state of New Hampshire, you're required to have minimum amounts of bodily injury and property damage liability coverage. (And New Hampshire strongly recommends carrying it.) Both of those liability coverages are intended to reimburse another driver or their passengers if you are at fault in an accident.

Your policy's collision coverage will cover damage to your car, while medical payments coverage or personal injury protection coverage, if you have either, can help cover the cost of any injuries you sustain. Your regular health insurance will help, too.

Whether it makes sense to file a claim can depend on:

  • Who was at fault
  • The extent of the damage to each driver's vehicle
  • Whether any injuries, either minor or serious, occurred
  • What type and amount of insurance coverage you have
  • What type and amount of insurance coverage the other driver has

If you plan to file a claim, get in touch with your insurance company as soon as possible after the accident. Each insurance company has its own process for filing claims and list of information you'll need to provide. You should be ready to offer any documentation you have, including a copy of the police report, photos, and the other driver's information. Your insurance company will assign an adjuster to your case, and that person will assess any damages or injuries to determine how much the insurer will pay to cover the claim.

Important

Be prepared to pay your policy's deductible after filing an insurance claim. Some insurance companies require that you pay the deductible before any repairs can be made or claims paid out. 

What Not to Do After a Car Accident

Knowing what you should do following a car accident matters, but it's also important to know what you shouldn't do. 

If you're involved in an accident, here are some of the biggest mistakes to avoid:

  • Don't flee the scene. Leaving the scene of an accident could result in a criminal charge.
  • Don't admit guilt. When exchanging information with the other driver, take care to avoid making statements that could be construed as an admission of guilt on your part.
  • Don't place blame. You should also avoid finger-pointing at the other driver or accusing them of causing the accident. This is an issue for the police and your respective insurance companies to sort out. 
  • Don't talk to an adjuster unprepared. An insurance adjuster, either from your insurance company or the other driver's, may reach out to you for a statement following the accident. Don't talk to the adjuster without first considering how that could affect any personal injury claims that might arise in connection with the accident

Finally, don't forget to check your auto insurance premiums after any accident claims are resolved. It's possible that your premiums will increase, though it isn't guaranteed. If your rates do go up after an accident, you may want to compare coverage from other companies to see if you can find a better deal.