What To Do After a Car Accident, Step by Step

Make a plan to protect yourself physically and legally with this walkthrough of what to do after a crash.

In the safety of our homes, browsing the internet, we all think that we know what to do after a motor vehicle accident.

We understand in theory what we need to do. We should tend to our injuries, call the police, get the facts, and watch out for damage to our cars.

We’ve seen people on TV shows making poor decisions after an accident, and swear that won’t be us.

When it’s actually happening to you, though, what you need to do is not always so clear. Stress, injuries, and money concerns can cloud our thinking. They cause us to overlook things that might be obvious in normal circumstances. It’s important to make a plan for what to do in the event of an accident before it happens.

This article will help you make your own post-accident checklist, or use a ready-made car accident information form. Either way, have a plan in place before the accident so that you can be safe and effective if it happens.

Check Your Surroundings

Hat cone traffic lined up on the street

The entire point of having an accident plan is to keep yourself safe. If you have just been in a car accident, the first thing to do is make sure that you and your fellow passengers are not in any more danger.

If your car is smoking or you are in the middle of a busy road with a lot of ongoing traffic, you need to take actions to ensure safety before anything else.

If you and your passengers do not have serious injuries and can safely move, get out of harm’s way before anything else. Moving an accident victim before they have had medical attention is rarely wise. In a life-or-death situation, though, you may not have the luxury of a choice.

If you or your passengers are unable to move, the first thing to do is call 911. You must be able to plan for a way to safely exit your vehicle in the event that emergency services cannot get there fast enough.

You may want to have tools in your car, like seatbelt cutters and windshield breakers, which can assist you in getting out of a car quickly. Emergency flashlights that don’t require batteries are useful for nighttime car crashes.

Once you have ensured your safety and that of your co-passengers, you’re ready to assess injuries.

Check for Injuries

Paramedics placing a cervical collar to an injured woman in car

Your first priority should always be your health and well-being, as well as that of your co-passengers.

Car crashes are literally impacts between vehicles weighing over 2,000 pounds. With so much mass moving so quickly, you don’t need to have a high-speed crash to suffer serious injuries.

After ensuring safe surroundings, check yourself and your passengers for injuries caused by the impact.

Head injuries are hard to spot but very serious. Concussions are common in car accidents, and can manifest as headaches, confusion, nausea, or an inability to stay awake.

Even if you don’t notice obvious head injury symptoms in yourself or your companions, see a doctor or other medical professional after the accident to rule out a concussion.

Finally, if you or your co-passengers have pre-existing medical conditions, it’s extremely important to determine if the accident made it worse. For example, let’s say you had back surgery five years ago, and the auto accident aggravates your old injury, leaving you unable to walk.

Even if the accident by itself was not enough to paralyze you, whoever caused the collision is still liable for making your old injuries worse. You must be aware of how the accident affected your body and get evaluated as soon as possible.

Check on the Other Driver

Two men making an agreement after a car accident

If you are not in immediate danger and you can safely move without injuring yourself, check in with the other motorists and their passengers.

Apart from making sure they are okay, you also need to exchange information.

At the very least, you need to get the other driver’s license plate number, and the make and model of their car. This information can be used to track down the driver if they flee the accident scene.

Assuming the other motorist stays on the scene, you should also exchange contact information, including names and phone numbers. If possible, use your cell phone to call the telephone number while you are at the scene of the car accident to ensure that it’s a functioning number.

Of course, you should also exchange insurance policy information. Ask to see the other driver’s insurance card with the policy number. Motorists are required to keep proof of their insurance policy in their car by law, though it may be a digital card or a cell phone application in some states.

Finally, take photographs of the cars, the scene of the accident, any injuries you may have, and the other driver if possible. Photographs give you important details and may even be used as evidence if there is a later dispute about the car accident.

Check In With the Authorities

Police flashing blue lights at accident damaged car
After the other items on your checklist are taken care of, your attention should turn to obtaining a police report.

When police officers show up, they will interview you, the other motorist, and any witnesses. They will also examine the scene and the vehicles to prepare their official crash report.

The police report will establish who was responsible for the accident.

The police report is an important document in the auto insurance claim process and in personal injury lawsuits.

When making a claim with the responsible driver’s insurance company, coverage will depend upon whom the police determined was responsible for the accident.

And if you have to file a lawsuit to recover for your injuries, the police report is a valuable tool for telling your story to a jury. The police report serves as an impartial, third-party view of what happened. It will also contain the name and badge number of the responding police officer, who can be a helpful witness to have at trial.

Therefore, while arranging for a copy of the report should not be the first priority on your checklist, a police report is a very persuasive way to show which motorist is at fault.

Check for Other Evidence

CCTV camera placed on road

Finally, don’t forget about any other evidence that may exist at the scene of the accident.

Paying attention to your surroundings at the time of the accident can help you later, when you need funds to repair your vehicle or for medical bills.

If you crashed near a private business, there may be security cameras that captured what happened.

There may also be witnesses who caught details crucial to helping you establish your right to compensation.

Even if your accident is by the side of the road with nothing else around, pictures of the environment and road conditions can be helpful.

Making a Checklist Now Can Make Your Life Easier Later

Accidents, by their nature, are unpredictable and chaotic. It’s very difficult to know what to do when you are injured or worried about the future. The best thing you can do to make the right decisions when an accident happens is to plan for it now.

Make a checklist with the information in this article or print off a free ready-made accident information form.

If you’re injured in an automobile accident, you also need to make sure that you are fairly and fully compensated for your injuries. Contact a qualified personal injury lawyer in your state for a free consultation and case evaluation.

Matthew Carter, Esq. has been a licensed attorney since 2004. He’s admitted to practice law in California and Nevada, where he was awarded the Martindale.com rating of AV – Preeminent. Matthew has successfully handled a variety of personal injury and wrongful death cases, as well as trials, appeals, and evidentiary hearings throughout state and federal... Read More >>


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