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Auto Accident Checklist

An automobile accident can be a confusing and stressful event, but being prepared can help you remain calm. It's important to know what to do immediately after an accident and what to do in the days following.

Immediately after an accident

  • Don't panic.
  • Pull off the road if the accident is minor. If the accident is serious and there are injuries, or if you believe there will be a dispute as to who's at fault, don't move the vehicles.
  • Call for police or medical assistance if necessary. In some states, police must be called if there is any property damage.
  • If you believe that the accident was staged intentionally, drive away to a safe or public location, signaling to the other driver that you are doing so. Don't get out of your vehicle if you feel threatened.
  • Take any necessary safety precautions. Set up flares or warning triangles starting 50 feet behind the vehicle. Turn on your flashers. Call a tow truck, if needed. Try to direct traffic away from the scene, if you can do so safely.
  • Don't get into an altercation with the other driver, no matter how certain you are that he or she was at fault. Don't discuss who is at fault.

Gather as much information as you can

  • Exchange key information with the other driver, including name, automobile owner's name, car registration, insurance company, insurance policy number, and driver's license number. If you are hesitant about safety, don't give your address or phone number to anyone but the police.
  • Write down the license plate number and state of any other vehicles involved in the accident. You'll also want a description of the car, including color, make, and model. Note the current condition of the other car and whether it appears to have past damage unrelated to this accident.
  • If passengers or other individuals were involved, get their names and find out how to contact them.
  • If possible, get the names, addresses, and/or phone numbers of witnesses to the accident. Get the name and town of the police officer responding, as well.
  • It's a good idea to keep a one-time-use camera in your car to take photographs of all damage.

Take simple legal precautions

  • Call the police right away and ask for medical assistance if necessary. Police should always be called to the scene of a serious accident or if property damage is significant or a traffic violation is involved (e.g., running a stop sign). Call the police right away if you believe the other driver is intoxicated.
  • Don't leave the scene until the police arrive.
  • Don't discuss the accident at the scene with anyone except the police, not even the other driver. In addition, don't admit responsibility for the accident because there may be legal repercussions. Just discuss the facts.
  • Immediately write down your recollection of the accident, noting time, weather conditions, road conditions, positions of vehicles, and so on.
  • Don't take any money for settlement of a claim at the accident scene. Later on, if you don't want to involve your insurance company, you can always negotiate a settlement with the other driver. If you do so, have him or her sign a letter releasing you from further liability.

Notify the following agencies

  • Call your insurance company as soon as possible after the accident. Your policy probably includes a clause stating that your insurance company should be promptly notified, and your state may have a law that limits the amount of time you have to notify your insurance company.
  • If you have a car loan, make sure that your insurance company has notified the lienholder. If your vehicle is declared a total loss, it's likely that the insurance company will issue a check to the lienholder, not to you.
  • Some states have laws requiring that individuals involved in an accident resulting in injury or property damage report it to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). Check with the police, the DMV, or your insurance company to find out if your state or the state in which the accident occurred has such a requirement.