Imagine you're driving to work or school, and traffic is gridlocked for no obvious reason. After what seems like hours, you drive by an accident scene. Have you ever wondered, "What if it was me? What would I do?"
Getting into a car accident can be a scary ordeal, but statistics show it likely will be something you experience at some point in your life. More than 5.5 million vehicle crashes occurred in 2009, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Washington, D.C. Fortunately, almost four million of those crashes involved property damage only.
If you end up in an accident and there are no injuries, count yourself lucky (instead of cursing the person at fault). This advice will help you successfully navigate an accident, or at least help you be prepared in case you get into one.
My dad always said, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." I have to admit, in the case of car accidents, he might be right. The first step is acknowledging the possibility you will get into an accident. Next, assemble the necessary supplies in your car in case you get into an accident.
The most important thing you should do is read and understand your auto insurance policy. "The best thing to do to prepare for a car accident is to know what kind of coverage you have," says Jim Huesman, an agent for Strand and Marcy Insurance Agency in Moorhead, Minn. Know your liability limits, whether you have physical damage coverage (often called comp and collision), and what your deductible is. You also should know if rental cars and towing reimbursement are included in case your car needs repairs. If you have trouble understanding your written policy, call your agent.
"Most agents are very understanding that everyone's insurance knowledge is different," says Huesman. "A good agent will explain and help a customer understand his or her policy prior to a claim."
at the accident scene
If you end up in an accident, stay as calm as possible and take a minute to collect yourself. If there are any injuries, call 911 immediately. If not, assess whether it's safe to get out of your vehicle.
If you're in a high-traffic area and your car is drivable, move it off to the shoulder. Safety permitting, try to get a few pictures of the accident scene before moving the vehicles. This can help an adjuster piece together accident details. Next, call the police to come to the scene. While you're waiting, exchange this information with other parties involved in the accident:
- Insurance information
- Vehicle make, model, year
- License plate number
- Driver's license number
If there are witnesses who were not involved in the accident, take down their names and phone numbers before they leave the scene. "Unfortunately, stories can change, so it's important to have witness accounts," Huesman says.
Keep the conversation with other parties simple and don't discuss accident details. "Their side of the story could affect your side or vice versa," says Huesman. "You want to keep your story fresh in your mind for the police statement." Also, don't admit fault—it's an adjuster's job to determine accident fault. It's best not to discuss personal details about your life, either. For example, if you talk about having a bad day, that could turn into you having been distracted while driving.
When the police arrive, they will take statements from both sides. Feel free to ask the officer to read your statement back to you to make sure all details were accurately reported. "Make sure you feel comfortable with the information given in a police report before you walk away," says Huesman. This could eliminate a headache down the road.
Call your agent after the police arrive—the number is usually on the back of your insurance card. It's best to report the accident even if you don't think you're at fault. The other company may get a different story, so it's best to let your company reps know so they can be prepared.
after the accident
Shortly after an accident, an adjuster will be in contact to get a statement from you, the other party, and any witnesses you've identified. You will need to get an estimate for damage to your vehicle. Review your policy again, make a list of any questions you may have, and don't hesitate to ask your agent.
If your car is determined to be "totaled," Huesman recommends researching the value of similar cars with similar mileage before talking to an adjuster so you know you're getting a fair price for your car.
Although getting into an accident is never fun, accidents happen. "Cars can be fixed," Huesman says. Preparing for an accident and knowing what to do at the scene can make the experience less stressful.