What to Do After a Car Accident

Michelle Clardie
Michelle Clardie
Contributing Writer

Being in a car accident is, definitely, a scary and stressful situation, and maybe worst of all, incredibly common. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported over six million car accidents in America each year between 2014 and 2017 (subsequent years are still being tallied). 

With car accidents being so common, it’s important that all drivers know what to do after a car accident. And because drivers have so much information swirling in their minds immediately after a car accident, it’s also important that they have a handy checklist to follow in the moments following a crash. That’s why we created an easy-to-follow guide that you can print and keep in your glove box just in case you ever need it. 

To give a little more context to each of the items on your guide, let’s go over the steps you should take after a car accident.


Safety first

The safety of all parties is your top concern following a car accident. Give yourself a quick assessment. Do you need immediate medical attention? Before you can help others, it’s important to make sure you’re physically able to do so. Check anyone else in the vehicle with you before you check on any other involved parties. Summon immediate medical attention by calling 9-1-1.  

You also need to decide what, if anything, to do with your car. If you’re able to safely move the vehicle out of traffic, that’s your best option. Otherwise, flip on your hazards to warn other drivers. If you happen to be on a busy multi-line freeway or highway and can’t move your car out of traffic or safely get yourself out of lanes, stay in your vehicle to avoid being struck by a passing driver. And never leave the scene of a car accident without checking on the other parties and exchanging information. Leaving the scene makes you guilty of a hit-and-run, which comes with hefty fines and possible imprisonment.

Contact the police

If anyone is injured, call 9-1-1 to notify the police of the accident and request medical attention for the injured in one quick call. Give the operator your name, location, and describe the injuries. Having the name of the street you’re on, as well as cross streets, landmarks, or nearby freeway entrances and exits helps the authorities get to you as soon as possible. Also, give them your number in case the connection drops and they need to call you back. 

If there are no injuries, consider calling the non-emergency number, 9-9-9, to report the incident to the police without tying up emergency responders.

Exchange information

Talking to the other parties may be difficult. You may be angry, scared, or feeling guilty. But it’s important to exchange information for insurance purposes. Exchange names and insurance information with all other parties involved in the car accident. This can be as simple as taking a photo of each other’s insurance cards with your phones. If anyone is unable to provide insurance information, make sure to get their contact information.To protect yourself, it’s best not to give your address to the other parties. Save that personal information for the police. And you may need to fight your instinct to apologize. Saying “I’m sorry” can be interpreted as an admission of guilt in many states.


Document everything

With adrenaline and emotions running high, it can be easy to forget the details of your accident. While you wait for the police to arrive, take photos of the scene, paying extra attention to damage and injuries. Document your account of the car accident while the details are still fresh in your mind.

Warning: Be aware of your surroundings as you take photos and document your experience. It’s surprisingly easy to get so wrapped up in the accident that you disregard the traffic still flowing near you.

File a claim with your insurance provider

Regardless of who caused the accident, you should file a claim with your insurance provider. You want your provider to hear about the accident from your perspective before it starts comparing notes with the other party’s insurance provider. 

Generally speaking, the at-fault party (or their insurance provider) is responsible for all expenses resulting from the car accident in most states. So if you are not at fault, you might have all your expenses paid. However, it’s possible that the at-fault party may be uninsured or underinsured and unable to cover the expenses. This is another good reason to file a claim with your insurance provider; depending on your coverage, your insurance company might cover the difference. 

If you live in one of the 12 “no-fault” states (Utah, Pennsylvania, North Dakota, New York, New Jersey, Minnesota, Michigan, Massachusetts, Kentucky, Kansas, Hawaii, Florida), each person’s insurance company will cover their client’s medical expenses, based on policy coverage.

Consider shopping for a lower car insurance rate

Car accidents can result in increased auto insurance premiums, particularly if the accident was your fault. Your insurance provider may see you as a high-risk driver with an accident on your driving record, and it may raise your rates accordingly.  

So the weeks following an accident might be a good time to shop around for a lower rate on your car insurance.

Other Considerations: Hiring a Lawyer

It’s not always necessary to hire a lawyer to address your car accident, but it’s worth considering to do so. Lawyers can protect you from yourself by guiding your official statements to the other party’s insurance adjuster and negotiating a settlement on your behalf following an accident.

At-fault vs. no-fault states will determine your insurance handling

At-fault infographic

Download Guide

This is obviously a lot of information to remember. And immediately after a car accident, you probably won’t be entirely clear-headed. So make sure you’re prepared. Print a copy of our What to Do After a Car Accident Guide to keep in your glove box. We hope you never need to use it, but if you are involved in a car accident, you’ll be glad to have an easy-to-read guide to help you through the situation. 

About the Authors

Michelle Clardie

Michelle Clardie Contributing Writer

Michelle Clardie has an MBA in management and strategy, and has worked in real estate. Her work has been featured on sites like Yahoo! News and Inman.