That's why keeping calm can help you manage this uncomfortable situation. So take a second to gather your composure, check on your passengers, and flip on your hazard lights to alert oncoming traffic of the incident. Then, to smoothly navigate the aftermath, remember these tips:
- Take Photos: After a crash, gathering info about the accident, other drivers, and any witnesses is imperative; using your phone's camera will make gathering that info a breeze. The odds are that crash will be unsettling, so Ruiz suggests, "…taking photos is easier than trying to write things down. Take pictures with your smartphone. Get shots of both cars, license plate, insurance cards and driver ID." That documentation will be valuable when the insurance adjusters work on your claim.
- Stick to the Facts: While your emotions may run high after a crash, try to keep them under control. Acting politely and respectfully can go a long way when working with the other driver, insurance companies, and any authority that works on your case. And while you may feel like admitting fault to the other driver or the authorities, don't do it. Instead, Ruiz suggests keeping it brief and saying, "I've been in an accident," when reporting the collision. That will prevent your words from working against you during the claim adjustment period.
- Be Alert and Aware: While it may be difficult, you need to stay committed to managing the situation. For example, pay attention that the name of the auto registration and driver differ. If not, take note. Another tip: Don't leave the accident scene prematurely. Stay for the entire process so you are fully involved and aware of all the conversations surrounding the scene.
- Police, Please: The laws reporting fender benders to the police vary from state to state, so while you may not be legally obligated to inform them of the crash, it may be a prudent decision. In cases where the other driver is less-than-helpful, appears inebriated, doesn't have insurance, or if you think it was a staged accident, call 9-1-1. One other thing to consider: Some injuries may not immediately surface after a collision; notifying the police can help in the future.
- File an Accident Report: Even if you and the other driver determine that police involvement is not necessary, you need to record and document the event for your insurance claim. Vehicle-accident report forms are typically available at police stations and through your state's Department of Motor Vehicles website as a downloadable file.
- Call Your Car Insurance Company: The time to start your insurance claim process is now. According to Ruiz, many insurance providers will begin processing your request and get back to you within 24-hours of your report. Feel free to call your provider at will, so you get the most current info associated with your claim. During the entire process, you may speak to a variety of representatives including your agent, a claims adjuster, estimators, and even a legal representative from your insurance provider. However, if a lawyer representing the other driver tries to talk directly with you, Ruiz suggests connecting them with your insurance company and letting them do the talking.
- Take Charge: You have the right to choose your auto repair shop, so don't listen if the other driver tells you otherwise. Ruiz suggests searching sources like the BBB, Yellowpages.com or other local review sites and reading the comments to find repair shop options.
- Allow for Differences: Numerous factors will impact your personal experience and timeline for recuperation and restitution; the severity of the car-crash and insurance coverage are two of them. Consider this: "Joe" may have to pay for a rental car and a higher rate because of his fender-bender, while "Jane's" policy covered her rental car cost and provides "accident forgiveness." The standard minimum car insurance coverage varies from state-to-state and features uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage liability, personal injury protection, or medical payments. Other car insurance features include car rental coverage, collision, and comprehensive insurance, road assistance, or windshield repair.
Jane D. Matthews is a writer-for-hire living in the heart of Hollywood. She has created content for dozens of websites, worked as a ghostwriter, and contributed her words to a published NYC shopping guide. In her spare time, she enjoys hiking, camping, vegetarian cooking, decorating, advising, and laughing until it hurts.