As of June 2015, there were approximately Two-hundred twelve million, one-hundred fifty-nine thousand, seven-hundred twenty-eight (212,159,728) licensed drivers in the United States. With so many people on the road with different levels of experience and skill, accidents are guaranteed to occur.
Approximately six million car accidents occur every year in the United States. Approximately two million drivers are afflicted with serious or permanent injuries as a result of these car accidents.
According to the National Safety Council, over the last three years consecutively, approximately forty thousand people have lost their lives as a result of car accidents in the United States.
Text messages have become a popular way to communicate, but they cause drivers to take their eyes off the road to read and respond. As technology becomes more advanced and a more significant part of our daily life, the number of car accidents caused by distracted driving climbs; one in four drivers involved in car accidents was using a cell phone prior to the accident.
These results indicate that most drivers will be involved in an accident at some point in their lives. If you do not know what to do when you are involved in an accident, this article will help prepare you for such an event.
Making the right decisions when you are involved in a car accident can make the difference between reducing or increasing your liability for fault, and protecting your interests as a victim. Therefore, it is imperative to know what steps to take, especially if you were the driver at fault.
By following the below steps, drivers at fault can better manage their liability, and drivers who are the victim of an accident can maximize remedies available to them as a result of their injuries and damages:
1. Remain at the scene
Take a deep breath, place your vehicle in park, and exit the vehicle. Check-in with the other driver to assess if either of you requires immediate medical attention.
Move the cars out of the road if necessary to prevent impacting traffic to an area that would be safe for you and the other driver to reconvene and manage the logistics associated with processing the accident.
Drivers should never leave the scene of an accident without exchanging information. Leaving the scene of an accident can create additional liabilities, such as a hit and run criminal charges.
Should the driver who hit you flee the scene, attempt to note their license plate number, as well as the make, model, and color of their vehicle. If any witnesses are available, ask them for any details that the police may find helpful to locate the driver who fled the scene.
2. Keep the scene intact and alert other drivers
If it is possible to keep the cars where they were when the accident occurred, do not move them. You will need to take steps to preserve the scene and keep other drivers from becoming involved.
All parties involved should turn the hazard lights on their cars on.
Then, if available, road flares should be placed in the road to bring the attention of passing drivers to the fact that they will need to change lanes to avoid the scene. If the accident occurred at night and you do not have road flares available, utilize flashlights to keep all involved parties safe.
3. Call the Police
Always call the police to report the accident, even if it is not serious. Your insurance company will want official documentation of the accident.
4. Provide honest information
When the police interview you about the accident, honestly describe the circumstances which led to the accident. If you cannot recall a specific detail, it is best to say that you do not recall, rather than filling in details with what you think may have happened.
Even if you think you have an answer that sounds better than saying you do not recall, a police officer or insurance agent may think differently.
The responding officer will ask if you are injured; answer this question honestly as well. If you do not feel that you sustained any injuries, saying that you are unsure rather than no would be best in the event that you need to file a claim later.
If you feel fine, keep in mind that many injuries inflicted as a result of a car accident do not present symptoms for several hours after the accident occurs.
5. Document the accident
Take pictures and a video of the scene with your cell phone. Be sure to get pictures of the damages to all vehicles involved, as well as any visible injuries to the drivers or passengers involved.
If you are unable to document the accident immediately after it occurred, return to the scene to get pictures of any remaining evidence. Do not rely upon a third party to send you pictures that they have taken; always take your own.
If the other driver appears to be under the influence of alcohol or other drugs, try to record them on the video to show to the police, insurance company, and your attorney.
Should you notice any details that you believe were relevant to the cause of the accident, document them to the best of your ability.
Distractions that may have caused the accident, such as a dog lose in the other driver’s car or a laptop open on their passenger seat, will be relevant to the responding police officer, to your insurance company, and to your attorney.
6. Exchange information
If police respond to the scene, they will facilitate the exchange of the necessary information. Be sure to note the responding officer’s name and badge number for your records.
In the event that police do not respond to the scene, it will be the responsibility of the drivers involved to exchange information. The drivers should exchange names, phone numbers, and insurance information. It is also wise to obtain the names and phone numbers of any passengers and witnesses as well, should their account of the accident be necessary later.
7. Report the accident to your insurance company
Any accident must be reported as soon as possible to your insurance company.
In the event that the accident happened after business hours, email your insurance representative all the information regarding the accident; this gives them all the information they need to begin processing the claim the next business day, and further, emailing the information provides a date and time-stamped copy of your reporting the accident to them.
If you suffered any injuries, prompt reporting will be crucial to ensuring that your medical treatments are covered.
8. Obtain Medical Treatment
Obtaining medical treatment as soon as possible after an accident contributes to your long term health.
Even if you do not feel injured, your doctor may be able to find internal damage that you would not have been aware of. Internal injuries may have severe consequences if left untreated.
9. Obtain copies of the accident report
The responding officer will write up an accident report after processing the scene. Request copies of the accident report from the county the accident occurred in.
Be sure to do this as soon as possible, as many counties purge records after a certain amount of time. Referencing the officer’s name and badge number will make this process more efficient.
10. Contact a Car Accident Attorney
If you believe that another driver caused the accident by being negligent, obtain legal counsel to represent your interests.
Many law firms work on a percentage basis of any damages awarded, so you may not need to pay a large retainer fee if you are able to find a firm who operates in this manner.
Always obtain legal counsel in the state and county the accident occurred in.
For example, if you live in Virginia, but were involved in a car accident in New York City, you should consult with a New York City car accident lawyer, as they are barred in the state of New York and have the most knowledge about how the courts handle car accidents in New York City.
11. Draft a claim letter
In anticipation of meeting with your prospective legal counsel, draft a claim letter to make the process more efficient.
A claim letter details the damages that resulted in you as a result of the accident, and the costs incurred to rectify them. Your attorney will finalize the letter to be sent to the driver at fault, in an effort to reach a settlement outside of court.
If the driver does not respond, your attorney may advise you to seek the intervention of the court by proceeding with formal litigation.
12. Negotiate or Litigate
The other driver may respond to your claim letter in an effort to reach a settlement outside of court, which is generally best for both parties, as this provides a way to save thousands of dollars in legal fees.
Your attorney will negotiate with the other driver or their legal counsel in an effort to reach a settlement. Should a settlement not be reached, litigation is available to pursue a remedy through the court system.
No matter which route you take, negotiations or litigation, it is best not to discuss the accident with anyone other than your attorney during this time.
The best way to avoid a car accident is by initiating and following safe driving habits. By instituting these habits, you can reduce your likelihood of being involved in a car accident:
- Do not use your cell phone or any electronic devices while driving.
- Clear all of your windows from snow and ice in the winter.
- Do not drive when you are tired.
- Obey traffic laws.
- Do not drive when you are experiencing extreme grief, anger, or happiness, as these emotions can be distracting.
- Perform regular maintenance on your car to keep it safe to drive.
- Do not misuse prescription drugs, drink alcohol, or use other illegal drugs while driving.
Car accidents can be very stressful life events. Keep the following tips in mind as you are dealing with an accident:
- Remaining calm is the most productive way to handle a car accident. Do not yell profanities at the other driver.
- When exchanging information at the scene, avoid discussing details with the other driver; you may accidentally say something to the other driver that confirms or implies guilt. Even apologizing may be considered an admission of guilt in court.
- Do not post about the accident on social media. Most people post about their whole lives on social media, which may make it feel natural to share such an event online. However, posting about your car accident may publicly reveal details that your legal counsel would not want exposing.
- No matter the circumstances, always choose to do the right thing and conduct yourself in an honest and ethical manner. Should you try to conceal a detail and it becomes exposed, this can negatively impact any standing that you may have to bring legal action against the other driver.
To summarize, these are the steps that should be taken when a car accident occurs:
- Remain at the scene of the accident.
- Keep the scene of the accident intact and alert other drivers to any road hazards caused by the accident.
- Call the police to report the accident.
- Be honest when answering questions about the accident.
- Document the accident by taking pictures and videos.
- Exchange names, phone numbers, and insurance information with the other drivers. Exchange names and phone numbers with any passengers and/or witnesses involved.
- Report the accident to your insurance company as soon as possible.
- Obtain medical treatment as soon as possible, even if you do not feel injured.
These are the steps that are involved in the long term logistics of finalizing the accident:
- Request copies of the accident report from the police department promptly.
- Contact an attorney to represent your interests.
- Draft a claim letter to your attorney in an effort to settle the matter outside of court.
- Negotiate settlement terms or proceed to formal litigation.
Knowing what to do if you are involved in an accident is essential to being a responsible driver. By following the steps and advice provided in this article, you can be confident that you have handled a car accident to the best of your ability.