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 make sure you are protected.

First, always stop if you are involved in an accident. 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, never admit responsibility for the accident. 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. If you expect the insurance company to take care of your claim, let them do the talking.

What to Do at the Scene of a Car Wreck

There are many ways to avoid a car wreck, but once one happens, it is important to know what to do and what questions may need to be answered by the other person involved to make your insurance claim. This checklist will help you know what to do after a car accident. It is best to review it now and then print it out and keep a copy with you in your car (or bookmark this article on your phone) so that you can access it in an accident.

Determine the Extent of Damage or Injuries 

Check to see if anyone needs urgent medical care. If you can, try not to move the vehicles unless they are causing a major problem with traffic. If possible, wait for the police before moving anything.

Contact the Police

Even in a minor accident, it is important to make sure there is a legal accident report. Read more about how to file a police report when you have a car accident in our follow-up article, "Your Accident and the Police."

Limit Your Conversation about the Accident with the Other Party

It is important to limit your discussion of the accident and not to admit any fault or liability. You should only talk about the accident with the police, medical professionals, and your insurance representative.

Get the Facts of Your Car Accident

Getting the facts of an accident is the part most people know but often forget due to the stress of being in a car wreck.

It is important to get the names, addresses, and phone numbers of everyone involved in the accident. A description of the car and license plate number can also be helpful, but make sure you also get their insurance company and their car's vehicle identification number (VIN). Don't assume the license plate number will do because most insurance companies only record the type of car and the VIN, not the license plate number. Here is a complete list of how to collect this information below.

Car Accident Information Checklist

Here's the information you will need to file a proper insurance claim:

  • Information about what happened
  • Information about the driver
  • Information for insurance

We cover each of these pieces of information in the five sections below.

1. Car Accident Form

The best way to be prepared for a car accident is to get in advance a car accident form used to collect all the information at the scene of an accident from your local DMV or police station.

Every state has a different form, so it is a good idea to obtain one to make things as easy as possible. A car wreck is really stressful and the last thing you need is to be worrying about the information you need to fill out.

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

  • Name of driver
  • Address of driver
  • Phone number or other contact information 

3. List of Information to Collect About the Other Driver's Insurance Company in a Car Accident

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

  • Insurance company name
  • Insurance policy number

4. List of Information to Collect About the Other Car Involved in the Accident

  • Vehicle description, make, model and year—consider taking photos for your own record, if possible
  • Vehicle registration information
  • License plate number

5. List of Information to Collect About the Car Accident or Collision

  • Date and time of the accident
  • Address of the accident, or approximate address
  • The road you are on and the nearest cross-street
  • The direction you were traveling in
  • The direction the other car was traveling in 
  • Take photos from a few angles or sketch a diagram of the crash scene
  • What happened (as soon as you can write out your account of what happened, or 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, visibility
  • Any witnesses' names and contact information
  • The name, badge number, and contact information for any police officer who comes to the accident

Should You Use a Mobile Phone to Take Photos at a Car Wreck?

With most people having access to mobile phones with cameras, as well as insurance companies allowing you to submit claims information using apps or email, you may consider taking photos. This is especially useful for property damage images, images of the positioning of the cars, where they were on the street, etc.

Please pay special attention to the potential risks of identity theft when it comes to your personal information. The other party needs your name, address, and phone number to give to their insurance company, but they do not really need your driver's license photo.

Being prepared with a form filled in with your basic information will avoid a situation where someone is asking for a photo of your license. Remember, when you're in a car accident, you do not know the other person usually and they do not know you. Always be cautious.

What Should Not Be Included In Your Accident Report?

You should never discuss fault with the other party or parties involved. The details of how you feel or what you were doing are not their concern.

Even if you feel like you did something wrong, do not accept responsibility or indicate responsibility.

Contact Your Insurance Company

Call your agent or insurance company's emergency claims number immediately. If you can call from the scene, it may be even more useful. Sometimes a police officer can give your insurance company more accurate information than you can at the time because you are upset by the accident.  

How to File Your Car Accident Claim

Your insurance agent or the person to whom you speak at your insurance company claims phone number will be able to walk you through how to file your claim after an accident. If your insurance company has an app, you may also have the option to start the claims process there or visit your insurance company website to see if you can fill in the information 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 discussion. If the other party tries to get you to admit fault or suggests you handle things without insurance, collect their information, and do not commit to anything. You need to get the information necessary to report the accident, especially considering that in many states you have a legal obligation to report a crash.

You can contact your state insurance commissioner or your insurance representative to ask them about the specific laws in your state. Remember at the scene of an accident 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 to make sure you get paid in a claim.