6 Mistakes Drivers Make After a Car Accident
Steer clear of double trouble: Even a minor fender-bender can become a major problem if you don’t take the right steps
You’re slowing down as you approach a busy intersection when — thump — you get rear-ended by a minivan. Or you swerve a tiny bit to the left to avoid hitting a raccoon in the road and scrape bumpers with an oncoming car. You and the other driver have both moved your cars out of the way of traffic, but now what?
Whether you’re involved in a minor fender-bender or a serious crash, knowing what to do after a car accident can reduce the risk of injury or death and make it easier to file an insurance claim, according to the Insurance Information Institute. Become familiar with the following common mistakes and learn how to avoid them now. That way, if you ever do have a wreck, you’ll be able to do the right thing even if you’re shaken up.
Mistake #1: Failing to document the incident
If you don’t, it could become your word against the other driver’s. Keep a notepad and pen or pencil in your glove compartment at all times. Write down where the accident occurred, the time of day, road conditions and exactly what happened. You could also use the “Notes” or another memo app on your phone.
You should also take photos of any damage to both cars. Snap a shot of the other driver’s license as well. If you don’t have a phone with a camera, tuck a disposable one in the glove compartment. Robert Sinclair, Jr., manager of media relations for AAA NewYork, suggests installing a dashboard camera. “It’s a good way to protect yourself against scammers who might back into your car and then claim you rear-ended them,” he explains.
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Mistake #2: Not getting enough info from the other driver
Even if no one got hurt and there’s no visible damage to either vehicle, you should still exchange phone numbers and other important details with the other driver. Why? Because you don’t know what may lie ahead. Maybe your mechanic will discover you’ve bent the control arm or damaged an axle. If you don’t have the other driver’s info, your insurer could refuse to cover the entire repair. Here’s what to write down after an auto accident:
- The other driver’s name, address and phone number
- Driver’s insurance info (company and policy number)
- Driver’s VIN (Vehicle Identification Number)
Mistake #3: Not notifying the police
If it’s really just a bump and no one is hurt you may not have to call 911. Only do this if you’re absolutely positive there’ve been no injuries or car damage, though. Leaving the scene of a car accident without calling the authorities could land you in serious trouble. In California, for example, you could be charged with a hit-and-run. For the regulations in your state, go to the Department of Motor Vehicle's website. Do file an incident report at your local precinct; your insurer may require it.
Mistake #4: Saying the accident was your fault
Even if you know you were blinded by the sun or (yikes!) you were talking on your cell phone or fiddling with the radio, say nothing. Don’t even say, “I’m sorry.” Limit your conversation with the other driver to a polite exchange of information. (Of course, tell the police, your insurer — and your lawyer — what happened.) And do notify your insurer immediately.
Mistake #5: Ignoring possible injuries
You might feel fine at the scene of the accident. But if later you develop a headache or neck or back pain or anything that could possibly be related to the crash, check in with your doctor. If those aches become chronic or severe, you could need a record that you sought medical attention.
Mistake #6: Skipping any of these steps if no one else was involved
Suppose you hit a patch of black ice and skid off the road into the guardrail or a tree. You’re not hurt and the damage to your bumper seems relatively minor. You still should treat the incident as an accident, says Sinclair, and report it to the police. You may feel foolish, but think how you’ll feel if you later face a big repair or medical problem and have no record.