What To Do in a Single-Vehicle Accident

How to manage at the scene, plus what it means for your insurance

A driver talks on the phone next to a car that has gone off the road
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Single-car crashes led to 53% of nationwide auto-accident fatalities in 2019, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), a nonprofit organization focused on accident reduction. In 2021, single-vehicle accidents made up 11% of all insurance claims filed with the Automobile Club of Southern California, with an average payout of $8,200. The high claims amount is likely related to the high speeds often involved in single-vehicle accidents, the insurer noted in a press release.

While no one wants to be involved in a solo car collision, it’s good to review what a single-vehicle accident might look like and why it can happen. It’s also wise to understand the steps involved in dealing with a one-car crash, as well as the best ways to reduce your chances of a single-vehicle accident.

What Is a Single-Vehicle Accident?

A single-vehicle accident involves just one car, truck, or other vehicle. It could result from a vehicle:

  • Hitting an object in the road
  • Drifting into a ditch or snowbank
  • Attempting to avoid colliding with a car, animal, person, or object
  • Hitting a pedestrian, cyclist, or animal
  • Being hit by an animal, such as a deer
  • Sliding on an icy road
  • Crashing into structures such as a building, tree, utility pole, guardrail, or mailbox
  • Losing traction or control

Where and When Do Single-Vehicle Accidents Happen?

According to U.S. Department of Transportation studies, fatal run-off-road single-car incidents are more likely to occur:

  • On rural, curvy roads
  • On roads with higher speed limits and fewer lanes
  • During bad weather and at night
  • When cars have two or more occupants
  • When men or younger drivers (aged 15-24) are behind the wheel
  • If the driver is under the influence of alcohol or drugs
  • If the driver is sleepy, speeding, distracted, or attempting to avoid another crash

Reckless driving, distracted driving, and the influence of alcohol are more common factors in single-car accidents involving drivers under the age of 24, according to a research study.

Steps To Take After a Single-Car Crash

If you’ve been in a single-car crash, don’t leave the scene. If you drive away from an accident that involves any physical injury or property damage, it could be considered a hit-and-run. That could lead to severe penalties in most states, including prison time, high fines, and losing your driver's license. Instead, take the following steps.

Stop and Offer Aid

Pull over if you’re in the roadway, and once you’re off the road, make sure you don’t create a hazardous situation for others. Turn on your hazard lights.

Offer aid to anyone who’s injured, but don’t move them. Call 911 if necessary for emergency assistance or the non-emergency police line, then remain at the scene until police arrive. Exchange contact and insurance information with any injured parties, such as pedestrians, as well as any witnesses. Don’t claim responsibility or discuss the accident at the location.

Assess Any Damage

If you’ve hit or damaged someone else’s property, attempt to find the owner or someone to whom you can report the damage. If necessary, leave a note with your contact information and insurance information.

If a pet is involved, don’t abandon it. If possible, attempt to move it out of the roadway, then either stay with the animal or attempt to find the owner.

If you hit a large wild animal such as a deer, it’s important not to approach or touch it—a frightened animal could cause more injury to itself or you. Stay in your car and call the police.

Take Notes and Photos of the Scene

From a safe place and while the experience is fresh in your mind, write down everything you can remember about the accident and take photos of the scene. This information will come in handy when you report the accident to local authorities and your insurance company.

Report the Accident

Each state has different rules about how and where to report an accident. For example, you may be required to report an accident if it involved more than $1,000 of property damage, human injury or death, or required a tow truck. You may be required to report the accident to your state’s department of motor vehicles (DMV) and/or state or local police within a specified time frame. If you’re not sure whether you need to report a single-vehicle accident, you may want to consult with a lawyer to ensure you’re following state laws and your insurance contract.

An accident-reporting form typically asks for detailed information about the accident, including the location, vehicle damage, time of day, a diagram of the event, road conditions, weather, safety equipment used, witnesses and individuals involved, and more.

Can You File an Insurance Claim After a Single-Car Accident?

A single-vehicle accident may cause damage to your car, damage to other people’s property, or medical expenses for yourself or others. Your insurance company’s policy will ultimately decide if and whether any damage or medical payments are covered based on your coverages, your insurance company’s approach, state law, and who is at fault.

For example:

  • Your collision coverage may help pay for auto damage resulting from your driving, even if a second vehicle isn’t involved.
  • Being hit or hitting an animal may fall under your comprehensive or collision coverage, depending on the insurer.
  • Collision coverage might step in if you swerve to avoid hitting an animal and instead hit an object.
  • Your personal injury protection might cover injuries you sustain if you crash into a ditch.

However, if you don’t carry collision or comprehensive, and the single-car crash is your fault, it’s unlikely your insurer will cover the costs of any damage.

Some insurers may distinguish between “preventable” single-car accidents and “unavoidable” ones. For example, Progressive says preventable crashes are typically covered by collision insurance, while comprehensive insurance covers unavoidable or unpredictable situations.

Other parties may also be at fault for a one-car accident. For example, an auto manufacturer may be responsible if your single-car crash was due to a manufacturing safety defect, such as broken steering components, a stuck accelerator, or inoperable windshield wipers.

Property owners could be determined to be responsible for an accident if their poor maintenance led to a hazardous situation. You may not be held responsible if you hit a deer or if road conditions were extreme and you were driving responsibly. If you took action to avoid another accident—such as swerving to avoid a driver who changed lanes without looking—you might not be at fault. It will be up to your insurance company to assign fault for the accident.

If your accident only requires minor repairs and their costs don’t reach your deductible, you might decide to pay for an at-fault claim yourself so the incident won’t impact your driving record.

How To Prevent Single-Vehicle Accidents

Accidents happen, but you can take steps to prevent them and reduce their severity:

  • Consider carrying coverage that would help pay for damage to your car, medical payments, or other costs if you’re at fault in a single-vehicle accident.
  • Stay alert and focused on the road when you’re driving. Avoid distractions such as cellphone use, eating and drinking, or changing radio stations.
  • Observe the speed limit and always wear your seatbelt.
  • Drive more carefully when faced with snow, sleet, hail, ice, fog, or even rain, as well as at night.
  • Slow down and watch for wildlife in heavily wooded areas, as well as from September to December (mating and hunting seasons). At night, turn on your high beams and watch for reflected eyes. If you see a deer, honk your horn to encourage it to move away from the road.
  • Watch for pedestrians and cyclists—particularly at intersections—in locations where pedestrians have the right of way, and at night.
  • Respond to any notices of auto or tire manufacturer safety defects you receive, and take action immediately. The notice will typically outline how to get the problem corrected and whom to contact.
  • Search your car’s 17-character vehicle identification number (VIN) on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s website to determine whether your vehicle has been affected by a safety recall within the past 15 years. Repair any urgent problems. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How do I avoid single-vehicle accidents?

Help prevent single-vehicle accidents by remaining alert, aware, and focused on the road and road conditions. Always wear your seatbelt, and avoid behaviors such as speeding, texting, or driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Will a single-vehicle accident claim increase my premium?

A single-vehicle accident may or may not make your annual auto insurance rates go up. Most likely, your insurer will consider the one-car accident in the context of your driving record; whether you’re at fault; your state’s insurance regulations; any previous claims and payouts; and policy add-ons such as accident forgiveness.

What happens if I’m found at fault for a single-vehicle accident?

If you’re found at fault in a single-vehicle accident, your liability insurance will cover other people’s injury and property damage claims. However, your liability insurance doesn’t cover your injuries, physical damage, or car damage claims. Instead, damage may be covered by:

  • Collision coverage: If the damage was preventable
  • Comprehensive insurance: If the damage wasn’t preventable
  • Glass coverage: If your glass claim only requires repair, not a replacement, you might avoid paying your comprehensive deductible.
  • Personal Injury Protection (PIP): If you or passengers are injured

If you don’t carry these coverages and are found at fault for a single-car accident, you’ll likely pay out of pocket.

When shouldn’t I report a single-vehicle accident?

Your state’s laws will determine if you should report a single-vehicle collision to state authorities. You’re typically required to report accidents if anyone was injured or died, or if more than a specific dollar amount of property was damaged.

Whether you should report the accident to your insurer depends on several variables, such as:

  • Whether it was on your property or someone else’s
  • Whether anyone might claim you’re at fault for damage to their property
  • Whether your deductible is higher than the damage costs to your car

Article Sources

  1. IIHS. “Fatality Facts 2019: State by State.” See “Crash Types.” Accessed Feb. 9, 2022.

  2. Automobile Club of Southern California. “Auto Club Reveals 2021’s Top Auto Insurance Claims in Southern California.” See “3. Single Vehicle Collisions.” Accessed Feb. 9, 2022.

  3. Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. “Factors Related to Fatal Single-Vehicle Run-Off-Road Crashes.” Pages 7 to 19. Accessed Feb. 9, 2022.

  4. Linfeng Gong and Wei (David) Fan. “Modeling Single-Vehicle Run-Off-Road Crash Severity in Rural Areas: Accounting for Unobserved Heterogeneity and Age Difference.” Accident Analysis and Prevention, 1. Accessed Feb. 9, 2022.

  5. Progressive. “Does Car Insurance Cover Single-Vehicle Accidents?” Accessed Feb. 9, 2022.