Car Accidents: Immediate Help and Follow-Up Steps

CAR ACCIDENTS - fender-bender Photo Credit: Monkey Business Images


  1. Be safe, be smart.
  2. Stop your vehicle if it is clear, safe and legal and turn off the ignition.
  3. Determine your location, if you can. You’ll need this for records and 9-1-1 calls.
  4. Don’t know where you are? Look for road signs, landmarks, mile markers, exit numbers and so on. These pieces of info might be helpful for the dispatcher.
  5. Injuries? Call 9-1-1 immediately. Include the exact location, number of vehicles involved and people, and describe any injuries. DO NOT leave the scene.
    • No cell phone? Ask a witness to make the call. Get their contact information in case the police or your insurance company needs to speak with them later.
    • Think someone needs help right away? Tell the 9-1-1 operator what’s happening and take advice from them.
  6. No injuries? You should still call the police and report the accident.
  7. Turn on hazard lights or use flares and other warning signs to alert other drivers to the accident.

WHN TIP – Be Alert: Keep safety in mind – traffic may not see you until it’s too late.

WHN TIP – Where You Stand: Do not stand in front of a pulled-over car; it may be hit from the rear.

Next Steps

  1. If you’ve called the police and an officer is on the way, get your license, insurance information and registration ready, if you can. Be safe and be smart.
  2. Look for witnesses and ask them to stay on the scene. The police will most likely ask them a few questions about what they saw.
  3. Call a tow truck company if your car looks to be inoperable or needs repairs.
  4. Before you allow a tow truck driver to pick up your car, be sure to ask the driver how much it will cost and tell the driver where to take the car.
    Write down:
    • Name of driver and company
    • Company address
    • Tow truck license plate number
    • Phone number

WHN TIP – Tow Truck: Don’t know the name of the tow truck company or where your car was towed? The city or the police might work with certain companies – give the department a call to find out how to track down this information.

Exchange Info and Document the Accident

WHN TIP – Documented information can help if there is a disagreement. You do not need to wait for law enforcement to arrive to begin gathering this info.

  1. Don’t be shy. Ask bystanders for what you need: pen, paper (napkins can work in a pinch) and a camera or their cell phone to take pictures.
    • If someone is uncomfortable handing over their camera or cell phone, ask them to take pictures for you. Be sure to get their contact information (name, e-mail, phone number) so they can send you the pictures later. If they are using their phone, give them your contact information so they email or text the images.
  2. Begin taking photographs. Keep in mind that you want your photos to show the overall context of the accident. Take pictures of the accident site before vehicles are moved (vehicles and any property they may have damaged, etc.).

WHN Expert TIP – Car and Scene: “Take pictures of the car and of the scene itself,” says Dave Mannato, Matador Insurance Agency, Latham, NY. “Also, take a picture of the other car because claim reps will need to know the color and license plate of the other car so be sure to get the license plate of the other vehicle(s) involved.” Your photos should show the overall context of the accident so that you can make your case to a claims adjuster.

WHN TIP – It’s All Important: Don’t take the time to consider noteworthiness. You may not be able to see the importance of, a broken tail light for instance, but it could help a professional reconstruct the accident.

WHN Expert TIP – Keep Copies: “Keep copies [of your photos] for your records,” says Mannato. “You may need them should some get lost to show to a lawyer [or an insurance agent] or if the case goes to trial one day.”

WHN TIP – Listen and Write: Listen carefully to what the other driver(s) say(s) about the events leading up to the accident, e.g. “I didn’t see you,” and write it down. This is also why you should be very careful with what you say.

When the police arrive, they may provide you with an accident form packet. The info will be similar to the forms listed below. If no officer is present or responding to the accident, use the list below to jot down contact details and accident information.

  • Print these two forms out and put them in your glove compartment:
  • Information on the accident
    • Date
    • Time
    • Location
    • Nearest intersection
    • Weather conditions
    • Road conditions (bumpy, potholes, road signs and signals)
  • Information about your passengers
    • Name, address and contact information
    • Injuries
  • Information about what happened to your car
    • Vehicle damage
  • Information on the other car
    • Color
    • Make
    • Model
    • License plate number
    • Vehicle Identification Number (VIN)
    • Any and all damage from the accident

WHN TIP – Plate Number: Jot down the other car’s license plate number! If the other driver provides false contact info, having the car’s license plate number makes it easier to track them down.

  • Information about the other driver
    • Name
    • Address
    • Phone
    • E-mail
    • Description (physical/other traits – ie., intoxicated, aggressive, helpful)
    • Insurance company
    • Policy number
    • Name on policy
    • Agent’s name (if they know it)
  • Information on the other passengers
    • Name, address and contact information
    • Injuries

WHN TIP – Who Are They? If the driver’s name is different from the name of the insured, establish what the relationship is between the two and get the name and address for both people.

  • If possible, get contact information from witnesses (name, phone, email)
  • Either you or someone on the scene should draw and photograph the accident site:
    • Streets, traffic signs, any obstacles in the road – anything that provides details of the accident
    • All directions of travel (for cars) and lane directions (one-ways, etc.)
    • Where the vehicle occupants were seated (both cars)
    • Landmarks in the area that might help you later to determine where the vehicles came to rest.
  • Continue to take photographs throughout this process.

If the police or medical personnel have responded to the accident, jot down their contact details:

  • Police Officer Name/Badge Number
  • Police Officer Name/Badge Number
  • Paramedic Name/Badge Number
  • Paramedic Name/Badge Number

WHN TIP – Biz Cards: Some officers carry business cards.

WHN TIP – Citations: The police may not say who was at fault – that may be left to the insurance company. The police may, however, write citations for either driver. A citation could be written for running a red light, speeding, inattention, careless driving, no proof of insurance and so forth. The citations may vary depending on the state and county laws.

WHN TIP – Accident Report: Accident/police reports: Local law enforcement officers may not respond to the accident unless there are injuries. In lieu of an accident/police report, file a state vehicle accident report at a local police station or your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles Web site. A police report often helps insurance companies speed up the claims process. Legally you may only have a certain time frame in which to file the report – check with your local police department.

After the Accident: Medical Care

  1. After the accident, you may be injured or experience some pain a few days after the accident. Read Medical Treatment After an Accident: 3 Steps for some helpful tips on what type of care to expect on the scene of the accident and how to manage doctor visits after the accident.
  2. Check our Health/Doctor Visit section and Health/Hospital Visit section for more health and hospital tips.

Insurance Claims Process

WHN TIP – Accident File: When you get home, make an “accident file.” This will include all of your notes, contact information, messages and other pertinent information. This can be an envelope, file folder, binder – whatever works best for you. Prefer digital files? Create a folder on your computer where you can save your scanned notes, any emails or digital reports or any other related information.

  1. At home, write down exactly what happened. Include all of the information you and witnesses gathered, and the names and contact numbers of the people you spoke with. File this in your accident file.
  2. Keep a copy of everything. Police, lawyers and insurance companies may request copies (don’t give away your last copy!).
  3. Consider another mode of transportation until your car has been repaired or you get a new car. (Some insurance policies include car rental fees, see next section.)
  4. Call your insurance agent. Read our Accident section for top tips on what to expect and how to manage through the claims process.
  5. Don’t have insurance? The After the Accident: Insurance Claims article also addresses the options that may be available if you don’t have insurance.

Remember …

The information provided here is not meant to be a substitute for professional legal or medical advice. These tips are from first responders, lawyers, insurance agents and people who have shared real-life advice; always check with a doctor or appropriate professional you trust before making any legal or health-related decisions.

Photo Credit: Monkey Business Images

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