Car crashes: we drive past them, sit in the traffic they create, and know those who have been affected by them. However, when you are the one involved in the collision, knowing what to do in the first moments after the crash can help protect you and the people around you.
The average adult will experience three to four car accidents during their lifetime. In 2015, the number of police-reported crashes was 6.3 million. Of those, 38% involved an injury. The moments following a crash can be disorienting and scary; understanding what to do will help put you in control in a difficult situation.
Vince Lombardi, beloved football player turned coach often said, “Preparedness is the ultimate confidence booster.” Preparation begins by knowing the 9 steps you should follow in the aftermath of a collision.
9 Steps to Follow After a Collision:
1. Stop at or Near the Scene
If you are physically able and your vehicle is operable, you should stop as close to the scene of the accident as possible without obstructing traffic. Activate your emergency flashing lights if they are working.
It is important to stop safely and as close to the scene as possible. Do not stop immediately after a blind curve or where it could be difficult for other drivers to see you. Turn off your ignition to reduce risk of fire or other further damage to your engine.
2. Assess the Situation
Once you are safely stopped, assess the situation. Are you injured? What hurts, if anything? Do you have fellow passengers? Are they okay? It is common to be shaken or disoriented by an accident. Take a moment for a few deep breaths.
If you or any passengers in your vehicle are injured, do not get out of your car. Move as little as possible and call for emergency assistance. If you have an infant or toddler in your vehicle at the time of the accident, do not remove them from their car seat until instructed to by an emergency medical technician.
If you are uninjured and can safely exit your vehicle, keep a close eye on any moving cars around you. Take in your surroundings. Is it especially cold or hot, dry or raining, day or night? Although there are fewer people on the road, 49% of car accidents take place at night. While lack of light can contribute to an accident, it can affect the aftermath as well, influencing the safety of the scene and making it more difficult to collect evidence.
Assessing the environment around you is important for your safety. Be aware of any debris from the accident, especially as it could be dangerous to others. Take a few moments to collect your thoughts and survey the situation before you interact with those around you. This will help you remain calm after the jarring experience of a wreck.
3. Call the Police
Call the state or local police and report the following:
- Whether or not you or any passengers are injured.
- The location of your vehicle.
- Your name and address.
- Your driver’s license number and vehicle registration or license plate number.
Cooperate and truthfully answer the questions of the dispatcher and responding officer regarding the facts of the accident. Do not admit fault or discuss the accident and how it happened with anyone else.
Once they arrive at the scene, the police officer’s first priorities will be helping with injuries, ensuring the safety of the scene, and getting traffic moving around the wreck. Next, they will likely talk to all involved parties and any witnesses at the scene.
The police officer will conduct an investigation and prepare a crash report. Without this investigation, accidents can quickly turn into a battle of one driver’s word against that of the other. If you are working with a police officer, this is also the time to gather and exchange information with those at the scene.
There are an estimated 10 million car accidents each year. Only about 6 million accidents are reported to the police. In Virginia, you are required by law to report any accident with fatalities, injuries, or damages exceeding $1,000 (Va. Code Ann. Sec. 46.2-894). Regardless of legal responsibility, it is always a good idea to have a police officer on scene to aid with and document a wreck.
4. Notify Emergency Personnel of Injuries When They Arrive at the Scene
Tell a law enforcement officer, firefighter, or emergency medical technician immediately if you are injured and describe your injuries. Your physical health and safety should be your top concern. The needs of each individual in a collision are unique and you must decide what is best for you in the moment. This could mean remaining in your car until emergency medical services arrive.
Richmond-based Allen & Allen lawyer Charles “Litt” Allen provides additional information about the importance of being a “Good Patient” in the wake of a crash.
5. Follow the Medical Advice of Emergency Personnel at the Scene
If police or emergency medical personnel recommend taking you directly to a hospital Emergency Room after a collision, you should go. If you do not go to the hospital directly from the accident scene, but you believe you are injured, have someone drive you to the hospital Emergency Room or to your doctor’s office as soon as possible after the accident.
Getting the medical care you need after a crash is extremely important. When a car collides with something else, regardless of size or speed, there is a huge amount of force that impacts the bodies of everyone involved. If you are in an accident, even if you don’t think you are injured at all, you should allow emergency services to examine you. Trusting the opinions of EMTs could have significant benefits for your health, while ignoring them could be catastrophic.
After any trauma to the body, it is normal for you to release large amounts of adrenaline and endorphins. These chemicals boost energy, dull pain, and can affect the way your body and brain process the aftereffects of a crash. Not only can your body chemically react to the crash, the actual physical symptoms themselves can take time to develop. Two of the most common injuries that result from car accidents are concussions and soft tissue damage. Both of these very serious injuries take time to develop and their severity may not be apparent immediately following a crash. Complying with the recommendations of medical personnel could help with injuries you do not yet fully comprehend.
6. Gather Information from All Parties Involved
If you are physically able, obtain the following from each driver involved:
- Name, address, phone number, and driver’s license number
- Vehicle(s) license plate numbers, along with the make and model of each vehicle
- Automobile insurance company and policy number of each driver
If a commercial vehicle is involved, secure the company name and vehicle fleet number.
There is no getting around it; there is a long list of important information to collect after a crash. Having a glove compartment accident guide is a great way to ensure you don’t forget to ask for all necessary information. Click here for a guide to print and store in your glove compartment, ensuring you have a tool to assist you during the confusion that may follow a crash.
7. Take Photographs
Take photographs of the accident scene and the damage to all vehicles if possible.
The first pieces of evidence are often the ones you collect yourself at the scene of the crash. Photos can help reveal the story of what happened and provide concrete proof of the damage caused. You can take a mix of photos and video, but be aware that video often does not have the same ability to capture small details. You can never take too many photos! Try to capture images from different angles and distances to create as full a picture as possible.
There are many different things at a crash site to photograph. First are the damages to your car and all other cars involved (make sure some photos include license plate numbers). If there is internal damage to your car, show this as well. Next, take photos of the crash site, particularly any signage or obstructions that could have contributed to the incident. Show details of the site affected by the collision. Look for skid or gouge marks, pieces of debris, or other physical signs of the crash.
Don’t worry about reviewing your photos in the moment. Take any many as possible and sort through them later.
8. Identify Witnesses
Try to obtain the names and phone numbers of any witnesses. This could be key to identifying who is at fault in the crash.
When you are involved in a collision, having a witness to verify your version of events can be extremely helpful. Ideally you will be able to find a witness who saw the whole incident unfold. Even if a witness didn’t see what happened, they could remember other aspects of the crash like road conditions or the sound of squealing tires.
The most important step in securing a witness is being able to contact them. Talk with the police officer at the scene to see if any additional witness information was collected, but don’t rely solely on the police officer for witnesses. The officer may be attending to other priorities before they are able to assist you.
9. Call Your Insurance Company
Call your auto insurance provider to report the incident. This is an important step because you may need to make use of your own insurance coverage in the wake of an accident. Later, your insurance provider, not you, will seek reimbursement from the other party’s insurance company.
Give a brief description of the collision, but do not admit fault. Be careful of how much information you provide during your call with the insurance company. Admitting fault or minimizing the care you may need could have longer term effects.
In order to use the benefits of your own auto insurance, it is important to contact your insurance company within a reasonable amount of time following the accident. Learn more about dealing with your insurance company following an accident.
While all the steps outlined in this article are important in handling the aftermath of your accident, your injuries may prevent you from completing 1 or more of these steps. This is okay. Getting the help you need and not exacerbating any injuries should always take priority after a collision.
In the days following a collision, it is important to contact a personal injury attorney to help you navigate the legal process. An experienced attorney can make all the difference as you try to recover following a crash. They will explain the legal process, and most importantly, act as your advocate when negotiating with the insurance companies.
The Allen Law Firm provides assertive advocacy and counsel on behalf of our clients and works tirelessly to deliver the best possible result. Click here to hear attorney and partner Trent Kerns describe the value of seeking an experienced attorney following a car crash.
Our attorneys understand the stress that follows a car accident and the difficulties that can arise in the weeks and months that follow. Knowing the right steps to take at the scene of a crash and beyond can help you regain peace of mind.
If you’ve been injured, the skilled and experienced attorneys at Allen and Allen can help. Call us for a free case evaluation at 1-866-388-1307.