What To Do After a Car Accident (Updated for 2024)

A heavily damaged car on the side of the road

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Driving a car feels safe and routine on your daily commute. However, there’s a slight chance you get caught up in a wreck. It could be a fender bender or a 10-car pileup on the highway. Regardless, knowing what to do in a car accident is essential.

The steps you take immediately after the wreck are crucial to the days and weeks ahead. Here’s a guide on what to do after a car accident, even when it’s not your fault.

What to Do in a Car Accident

Car accidents can make everything seem like a blur. Here are five things you should do after the wreck happens.

1. Avoid Panicking

Car accidents are hectic, but staying as calm as possible is critical. Keep a cool head and remain as rational as possible. Don’t blow your top, even if your convertible’s roof is gone. Getting angry doesn’t solve anybody’s problems.

Knowing what to do in a car accident means ensuring clear communication. Panicking can lead to missteps and overlooking important details, such as injuries and vehicle damage.

2. Ensure Your Safety

A car after a bad accident

When an accident happens, you need to keep yourself and others safe in the aftermath. Move your vehicle to the side of the road if it still runs. Turn on the hazard lights to warn others on the street — especially at night. Some areas don’t have adequate lighting and it’s much harder to see.

Also, you have to account for drowsiness and fatigue. Research shows you’re three times more likely to be in a crash if you’re tired.

3. Contact Emergency Services

If you or someone else is hurt, calling emergency services is a good idea. Even if the injuries seem minor, you should call 911 because there could be underlying issues — or your injuries could be worse than you previously thought.

Some states mandate you call law enforcement when accidents happen. For example, the Florida Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles Department says the vehicle’s driver must call law enforcement if the crash causes injury or death, or at least $500 in property damage.

Then, you should check the person in the other vehicle to see if they’re OK. Even if they ran into you, asking if they need help is still courteous. Every second matters following an accident and one phone call can save someone’s life. The impact on their car could have been much worse than yours.

A speeding ambulance

4. Exchange Information

When everyone is OK, you need to exchange information. It’s best practice, and most states and insurance companies require you to do so. If the accident is your fault, it may be humbling to approach the affected driver, but it’ll save you legal headaches down the road. Get the following from the other driver:

  • Name
  • Phone number
  • Email address
  • Car make, model, year and color
  • License plate and driver’s license number
  • Insurance carrier and policy number

5. Contact the Insurance Company

The last major step after a wreck is to contact your insurance company. Many carriers have smartphone applications to make filing claims much more manageable. The apps only require a few minutes to input the crash details and may ask for pictures. These features teach you what to do in a car accident.

For example, American Automobile Association’s (AAA) Roadside app lets you report accidents. AAA will send a professional to tow your car and bring it to a mechanic, streamlining the process to help drivers get back on the road.

What to Do After a Car Accident When It’s Not Your Fault

Car accidents are unfortunate enough by themselves. How do you know what to do after a car accident when it’s not your fault? You don’t want to be on the hook for someone else’s mess, so follow these five steps.

1. Speak to an Attorney

You’ll need to navigate the legal process when the accident isn’t your fault. In this instance, your best friend will be a personal injury attorney. If you’ve watched enough local TV, you’ll know the names and phone numbers of the largest firms in your state. Their commercials may be corny, but they have law licenses and know your state’s regulations.

Having an attorney is essential because other people in the accident likely have lawyers on their side. You didn’t cause the wreck, so you need help to prove you’re not at fault. The other person drove around like they were playing Grand Theft Auto and should be accountable. Attorneys will prove your case to a judge and land the compensation you deserve.

2. Watch for Early Settlement Attempts

Every involved attorney knows what to do after a car accident when it’s not your fault. Unfortunately, the other lawyers and insurance companies may conspire to help their clients as much as possible. Hiring a seasoned attorney is essential to stay on course and not fall for dirty tricks.

Watch out for early settlement attempts by the other party. The at-fault driver and their attorney know who’s responsible for the accident. Thus, they’ll make a settlement offer to avoid going to court. These cases can take months to go through the judicial process, so the other insurance company may lowball you on the settlement offer. Consult your lawyer with each correspondence they send because they can determine if your compensation is fair.

3. Keep Every Record

Closeup of a totaled front fender

Documenting everything about the accident is essential. Take pictures of every corner of the car immediately after the accident. Having photographs on the scene will significantly help your case if you decide to go to court.

You should also record your injuries and any discomfort from the wreck. Take pictures of any wounds and bruises to prove the accident caused your injuries. Documenting your injuries and vehicle damage is essential to know what to do in a car accident when it’s not your fault.

4. Seek Medical Attention

After the wreck, you should still seek medical attention. Don’t worry about proving your wounds to the jury to receive your compensation. That logic only works in “Seinfeld,” when Kramer applied the balm to his hot coffee burns.

In fact, getting medical help after an accident could assist your case. Going to the hospital to treat your injuries shows you demonstrated care and can strengthen your case in court.

How to Prepare for Car Accidents

Preparing for a car crash sounds cynical, but it’s a reality you must be aware of. The odds of being in a car crash are low but still a reality in today’s auto-heavy world. Here are three ways to prepare so you know what to do in a car accident.

1. Pack a First-Aid Kit

Safety comes first, so packing a first-aid kit in your car is essential. This container should have bandages, slings, scissors and personal protective equipment to care for your wounds. Use your first-aid kit to treat injuries until the medical professionals arrive.

2. Carry Essential Documents

Carry essential documents in your car wherever you go. It doesn’t matter if your trip is across the country or to the grocery store — ensure your proof of insurance, vehicle registration and driver’s license are always in the car with you. Having these documents on hand is also required by law.

3. Install Safety Measures in Your Car

In bad car crashes, you may be severely injured with little mobility. For these situations, having safety measures in your car to call emergency services is helpful. For example, General Motors vehicles have OnStar technology installed. The service detects when you’re in an accident and calls first responders for you.

Knowing What to Do in a Car Accident 101

Car wrecks are an unfortunate part of life for many. Some people leave the scene with totaled cars, even if they follow all traffic laws correctly. The minutes and days following a crash are vital, so use this guide to know what to do after a car accident, even when it’s not your fault.

Original publish date 8/1/2016 — Updated 8/15/2023

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