According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), more than 7 million car accidents occur each year. Of those, there are more than 2 million people injured and more than 40,000 killed. One out of every four drivers is in a car accident during their lifetime. The NHTSA estimates the financial cost of these accidents is more than $230 billion.
State Farm Insurance Company statistics indicate approximately 75 percent of all car accidents are non-injury accidents, or “fender-benders,” and involve only property damage. Most insurance companies categorize them as minor car accidents because people quickly settle and seldom sue.
Car-on-car fender benders occur at low speed and result in minor damage. The majority of these accidents occur when drivers:
- Back out of driveways
- Can’t stop at an intersection because of braking problems or inclement weather
- Drive unreasonably fast in parking lots at malls, grocery stores, schools, etc.
- Get distracted while putting on makeup, using their cell phones, tuning the radio, etc.
- Are innocently caught in chain-reaction, rear-end crashes in slow-moving traffic
- Nod off or fall asleep in bumper-to-bumper, rush-hour, or slow-moving traffic
Most people are familiar with fender-bender accident protocol. They know the basics of what to do. Yet even minor car accidents can create chaos. Bent steel, broken glass, and upset drivers can unsettle the immediate environment. As a result, it’s sometimes easy to forget what you need to do to preserve the evidence to make a proper insurance claim.
In this section, we cover proper protocol for minor car accidents. We discuss car-on-car fender benders. Most of what you find here is also applicable to single car accidents.
When a car accident happens, adrenaline, anger, and frustration can interrupt your thought processes. After all, we’re only human. No one likes to have his or her car scratched or dented. Suddenly realizing you’re late for work or you need to pick up your children from school is upsetting. Having to stand out in the middle of traffic with voyeuristic drivers rubbernecking is a very uncomfortable experience.
If it’s a fender-bender, there’s a good chance no one is hurt. That’s what’s most important. What follows are the 10 most important things to remember after a minor car accident. You might want to print this list and keep it in your glove box or console along with this accident report form.
10 Things to Remember After a Minor Accident
1. Stay calm
As someone said many years ago, “It’s only sheet metal.” That’s really all it is, although with today’s cars, there’s a lot more plastic and fiberglass. It’s really not as bad as it seems. You can use your cell phone to call work and say you were in an accident, and you’ll get there when you can. Most employers understand. If you’re married or have a partner, call them to pick up the children.
2. Anger is counterproductive
Keep your cool. If you allow yourself to get upset, you’ll forget to follow protocol. Worse, you may make yourself sick. It’s just not worth it. It’s a minor car accident with no injuries. Whether you’re responsible or not doesn’t really matter at this point.
Although you can’t control how the other driver reacts, do all you can not to escalate the affair by becoming involved in a confrontation. Tell the other driver it’s best to leave the issue of fault up to the insurance companies.
3. No apologies, please
It’s common for adrenaline to start pumping after an accident, even a minor one. Whether you’re at fault or not, don’t apologize. While your morals and instincts may tell you to, it’s better to leave any comments for your insurance company. Remember, the other driver can use anything you say as evidence against you – even in a civil case.
It’s unlikely your fender bender will ever end up in court. However, if it does, anything you say implying your own fault can be used by the other driver and his insurance company as “admissions against interests” (your interests).
4. Check for injuries
Although minor fender benders usually don’t result in injuries, it’s a good idea to make sure. Don’t hesitate to call the police or fire rescue for assistance if anyone is hurt.
5. Call the police
Even if no one has injuries, having a police officer sent to the scene is important. Unfortunately, in most cities today, there aren’t enough police available to respond to non-injury minor car accidents. Ask for one anyway. Be sure to tell the dispatcher whether the cars are slowing or stopping traffic or whether you feel the scene is dangerous. If that’s the case, they’ll certainly send at least one officer.
If the police respond, they’ll create a police report. In the report, they’ll enter the drivers’ and witnesses’ names and contact information, draw a diagram of the accident, and make a designation of who was at fault. If they issue any tickets, they note it in the report.
If the other driver was at fault, and you live in an at-fault insurance state, the police report is invaluable. Ask the officer for the service number of the report. You can pick up a copy of the report at the police station a few days after the accident for a nominal fee.
6. Off-road accidents
If the accident occurs on business property (shopping mall, grocery store, etc.), look for security personnel. They can assist while the police are on their way. Whether the police come or not, make sure you ask the security personnel to give you a copy of the incident report, and ask for a reference number for the report.
Although the incident report probably won’t indicate who was at fault, it will contain valuable information. Unfortunately, no law compels private businesses to release copies of incident reports. Only a court subpoena can do that.
7. Get the insurance information
Whether the police or security personnel are on the scene or not, make sure you exchange insurance and contact information with the other driver. Write down the driver’s full name, contact info, and the name and telephone number of his insurance company. If the driver has an insurance agent, write down her contact information as well. It’s also a good idea to look at his driver’s license. Be sure to confirm the information is current.
Do not relinquish your driver’s license to the driver. Show it to him, but don’t let him have possession of it. If he decides to hold on to it, you may have a difficult time getting it back. Write down a description of the driver’s car and the car’s license plate number.
8. Photographs and videos
Use a camera or cell phone to take photographs and a video of the accident scene, the cars, and the point of impact. If you see any beer cans or other open bottles of alcohol, photograph them. If the police or security personnel respond, be sure to bring it to their attention. If the driver takes a field sobriety test, photograph and video it (if the police permit you).
Don’t argue with the police. They don’t legally have to explain or defend their actions. Let them do their job. If you interfere, they may arrest you.
9. Look for witnesses
Even though it’s just a minor car accident, witnesses can help your insurance company, especially if the other driver later claims he was hurt. If the witnesses agree, ask them to write down their contact information and a brief statement of what they saw. There’s no law stating a witness statement must be notarized or a witness has to swear to it.
10. Contact your insurance company
When the air clears, it’s all about the insurance reimbursement. Whether you’re at fault or not, you must notify your insurance company. If you’re convinced the other driver was at fault, contact his insurance company, as well. File your claim with both insurance companies. Make sure you get a claim number for each.
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