I Had a Car Accident—Now What?

Steps to Take After a Car Wreck

What to do if you have a car accident
••• Guido Mieth / Getty Images

When you have a car accident, there are a few keys things you need to do to protect yourself.

First, always stop if you are involved in an accident, no matter how small. It is your legal obligation. Even if you do not think there was any damage, you need to stop your car any time you collide with something.

Then, while you are at the scene of the wreck, you should not admit that you were at fault for the accident to other people involved. Your insurance company adjuster will investigate and determine the fault. Your insurance policy is a contract, and your contract for your insurance with your car insurance company states that you must not assume responsibility or liability under these circumstances.

After your wreck, you will be asked questions by someone from your insurance company, and you must be truthful. Do not say anything at the scene of the wreck to other people about who you think was at fault.

What to Do at the Scene of a Car Accident

There are many ways to avoid a car wreck, but once one happens, you should know what to do and what questions you may need to ask the other person involved to make your claim. This checklist will help you know what to do after a car accident and questions to ask. It is best to review it now, print it out, and keep a copy with you in your car so that you can access it if you're involved in a wreck. You can even bookmark this article on your phone.

See if There Is Damage or if People Are Hurt

Check to see if any people need urgent medical care. If you can, try not to move the cars unless they are causing a major problem with traffic. If you can, wait for the police to come before moving cars.

Contact the Police

Even in a minor fender bender, it is crucial to make sure there is a legal accident report. The police may not always be able to show up, but if they do, you will need to fill out a police report.

Limit Your Talk about the Event With the Other Party

You will want to limit talk of the accident with other people at the scene and not admit any fault or liability. You should only talk about the accident with the police, other first responders, and your insurance representative.

Get the Facts of Your Car Wreck

You may know that getting some key facts at the scene is crucial, but some people forget due to the stress of being in a car wreck.

You should get the names, addresses, and phone numbers of others involved in the accident. Record details of the other car, including make, model, and license plate number. You should also get their insurance details and their car's vehicle identification number (VIN) if you can. Here is a complete list of how to collect this information below.

Car Accident Information Checklist

Here are the things you will need to have to be able to file a proper insurance claim:

  • Details about what happened.
  • Details about the driver.
  • Details for insurance.

Learn more about each of these items and how to collect them below.

1. Car Accident Form

The best way to be prepared for a car accident is to make sure you have a car accident form. You can use it to collect information at the scene of a wreck. You can get one from your local DMV or police station.

Every state has its own form, so it is a good idea to obtain one to make things easy. A car wreck is really stressful. The last thing you need is to be worried about what questions you need to ask and what information to collect. The form will have those things for you.

2. Information to Collect After a Car Wreck About the Other Driver

  • Name of driver
  • Address of driver.
  • Phone number or other ways to get ahold of the driver.

3. Information to Collect About the Other Driver's Insurance

You need some basic things here, which can be found on their proof of insurance card. Get the other driver's:

  • Insurance company name.
  • Insurance policy number.

4. What to Find Out About the Other Car in the Wreck

  • Vehicle make, model, color, and year. You may want to take photos for your own record, if possible.
  • Vehicle registration information.
  • License plate number.

5. What to Collect About the Event

  • Date and time of the event.
  • Address of the wreck, or as close as you can.
  • The road you are on and the nearest cross-street.
  • Which way you were going.
  • Which way the other car was going.
  • Take photos from a few angles or make a sketch of the crash scene.
  • Details of what happened. Do this as soon as you can write out your account of what happened. You can use your mobile phone to record yourself telling all the details for your own records. It's easy to forget the details when you are shaken up from a crash, so a recording of you talking about it might help later.
  • Any notes regarding the driving conditions, the weather, and visibility.
  • Names and how to get ahold of people who saw what happened.
  • The name, badge number, and contact information for any police officer who comes to the scene.

Do not include who you think was at fault, or details of how you feel or what you were doing right before the crash on the report. Stick only to the concrete facts.

Should You Use a Mobile Phone to Take Photos of a Car Crash?

Most people having access to mobile phones they can take photos with. Insurance companies encourage you to submit claims using apps or email. It makes sense that you would take photos of the crash and submit them with your claim. This is very useful for property damage photos, photos of how the cars came to rest, where cars were on the street, etc.

Be mindful of the risk of identity theft when it comes to giving out your information. The other party needs your name, address, driver's license number, and phone number, but they do not really need a photo of your driver's license.

Being prepared with a form filled in with your basic information will avoid someone asking for a photo of your driver's license. Do not forget, when you're in a car crash, you do not know the other person and they do not know you. Always be cautious.

How to File Your Claim

Your insurance agent or someone at the claims office will be able to walk you through how to file your claim after a car crash. If your insurance has an app, you may also have the option to start the claims process there or visit the company's website to see if you can fill in the details or follow up on your claim online.

Your job in the car wreck is to collect the facts and not get involved in any further talk. If the other party tries to get you to admit fault or suggests you handle things without insurance, collect their details, but do not commit to what they are asking. You need to get the details you will need to report the accident. In many states, you have a legal obligation to report a car crash.

Call your agent or insurance company's claims number right after you take care of things at the crash scene. You may even try to call while still at the scene if you can. 

You can contact your state insurance commissioner or your insurance company to ask them about the laws that apply in your state. Don't forget that at the scene of a car crash, you do not know the person you are dealing with. You do not know what kind of insurance they have or any of their details. Stick to the facts to protect yourself and make sure you get paid in a claim.