What To Do After an Automobile Accident

Unfortunately, at some time in our lives, most of us will experience an automobile accident. When you are in a car accident, even if you are not injured, there are certain things that you should and should not do.

First and foremost, try to remain calm. While it is understandable why you might be upset or angry after an accident, if you respond calmly you are much more likely to avoid escalating the situation by getting into a conflict with the other driver, and are also much more likely to have the police officer who investigates the accident scene understand and give credit to your explanation of how the accident occurred.

Stay At The Scene

If you are involved in an accident involving injury, or substantial damage to property, stay at the accident scene until the police tell you that you can leave. If you have any question about whether the damage caused by the accident is substantial, err on the side of caution -- when the law requires you to wait for the police, leaving the scene of an accident can result in driver's license sanctions and even criminal charges.

For less serious accidents, you may relocate the vehicles so that they do not obstruct traffic. That may mean pulling over to the shoulder of the road, You should remain at the scene until the police have authorized you to leave. Some highways provide designated investigation areas areas where drivers may relocate while waiting for the police. Communicate with the other driver so that you keep your vehicles together and so that the other driver will not be concerned that you are trying to leave the scene of the accident before the police arrive.

Warn Other Drivers of the Hazard

When you are in an accident, there is risk of a secondary accident, whether due to the presence of damaged vehicles, debris from the accident, the presence on the roadway of drivers or passengers from the vehicles involved in the accident, or the presence of other vehicles that have stopped to help. You can help avoid a secondary accident by turning on your emergency flashers and, if you have them, placing a reflective triangle or emergency flares on the roadway approaching the accident scene. Be careful when placing a triangle or flares, as approaching cars may not see you.

Safeguard The Injured

If somebody is injured in the accident and you are trained in administering first aid, try to help.

  • Do not move an injured person.

  • Have somebody call the police to report the accident. The person who contacts the police should tell the police that people are injured, if possible also providing the number of injured persons, so that enough emergency personnel respond to the scene.

  • Watch out for other cars. When it is dark, when weather conditions are poor, and sometimes out of plain bad luck, people providing help to accident victims have themselves been hit by cars while providing aid.

If you are able to call 911, it may be possible to receive instructions on how to provide appropriate emergency medical care while you wait for the police or paramedics to reach the accident scene.

Obtain and Exchange Information

In any accident, you should obtain the following information about:

  • The Other Driver: Get the other driver's name, address, driver's license number, vehicle registration information, insurance information, and license plate number.

  • The Owner of the Other Car: If the other driver's registration identifies somebody else as the car owner, make a note of the registered owner's name.

  • Witnesses: Ask witnesses to provide their names, addresses, and telephone numbers.

  • Police Officers: Ask the police officer's who investigate the traffic scene to give you a business card with the incident number for the accident, so that you can obtain an accident report. Most officers will provide this information to you, even if you don't ask.

  • The Accident Location: Take notes about where the accident occurred, the road conditions, speed limits, traffic control devices, the weather, and the lighting. Make a note of the nearest cross-street or mile marker number.

  • How the Accident Occurred: Take notes about how the accident occurred, including as the direction of travel of the vehicles involved in the accident and what the cars were doing at the time of the collision.

If you have a smartphone or camera, you should take photographs and video recordings to document the accident scene and the extent of the damage. If you are able to do so without causing a conflict, take a picture of the other people involved in the accident.

Keep in mind that if litigation results from the accident, you may have to share your notes and photographs with somebody that you are suing, or somebody who is suing you.

Do Not Admit Fault

Even if you believe that you are at fault for the accident, do not admit liability. There may be factors which you don't know that played a role in the accident, and despite your initial impression it may turn out that the other driver was more at fault than you.

Do not make statements about the accident to anybody at the accident scene, except for the police. When you speak to the police, tell them only the facts of what happened. Let the officers draw their own conclusion from the facts.

Get Medical Care (See a Doctor)

If you are injured in a motor vehicle accident, depending on the severity of your injuries, you should seek care at the emergency room or promptly seek care from your primary care physician. When deciding if you should see a doctor, err on the side of caution. The "adrenaline rush" from the accident can mask your symptoms -- a physical examination by a doctor may reveal an injury that you do not yet feel.

Tell the doctor if you have any loss of memory, headache, blood or fluid in your ear, dizziness, tinnitis (ringing in the ears), disorientation, nausea, confusion, or any other unusual physical or mental feeling. Many people hit their heads, or suffer brain injuries in automobile accidents, and don't realize that they are injured -- it is best to be safe, by reporting your symptoms so that the doctor can rule out the possibility of a concussion or brain injury.

If you do not seek medical care after an accident and later seek treatment, when you try to obtain coverage for the medical care from your insurance company or attempt to recover your expenses or make a personal injury claim against the at-fault driver, you are likely to find that your delay in seeking care is used to support the argument that you either were not injured in the accident, that your symptoms are not related to any injury you suffered in the accident, or that your injuries from the accident were not as severe as you later find them to be.

If you are involved in personal injury litigation arising from a car accident, you will benefit from consulting a personal injury lawyer.

Notify Your Insurance Company

Your auto insurance contract requires that you notify your insurance company of accidents that may result in a potential claim. The time period for reporting an accident may be quite short. If you do not report an accident or delay making a report until after the deadline has passed, your insurance company may later deny the claim.

Copyright © 2005 Aaron Larson, All rights reserved. No portion of this article may be reproduced without the express written permission of the copyright holder. If you use a quotation, excerpt or paraphrase of this article, except as otherwise authorized in writing by the author of the article you must cite this article as a source for your work and include a link back to the original article from any online materials that incorporate or are derived from the content of this article.

This article was last reviewed or amended on Jul 8, 2016.