If planes make you nervous, you’ve probably heard from a well-meaning person that you’re about 60 times more likely to die in a car accident than in a plane crash [source: Bailey]. That’s great news if you’re about to take a cross-country flight, but it’s a little scary for people who drive to work every day: At their worst, car accidents can be very bad. At their best, they can be a big, expensive hassle.
Auto insurance is there to help ease the financial and logistical burdens of an accident, which is good news for all the drivers out there. No matter how bad the accident is, you must tell your auto insurance company about it, even if you don’t think you were at fault [source: Insure]. Your insurance may pay for your medical bills and car repairs, but how quickly and fairly your claim is handled depends on what information you give after an accident.
What, where, and when are the Specifics
Both physically and emotionally, car accidents can be pretty scary. Even if you’re sure it was the other person’s fault, you shouldn’t point fingers right after an accident. This is why your insurance agent isn’t always the first person you should call.
Use your phone to make a quick voice memo or a small notebook to write down important information. The best time to call the police is when you have left the scene of the accident and can look at the facts with a clear head. The most important things for your insurance company to know first are:
When and where did the accident happen? So that your insurance company can handle your claim as quickly and fairly as possible, it’s your job to help them re-create the scene of the accident, right down to seemingly small details like the weather and traffic.
What went down. This can be hard because emotions and adrenaline are running high after this accident, but a step-by-step record of what happened is essential to getting your claim taken care of. Include details like speed, the direction of travel, where everyone was, and who hit whom.
On the next page, we’ll talk about what your insurance company needs to know about the damage from the accident and how to best document and report it.
Report Damage for Bumps and Bruises
Your insurance company will possibly transmit an agent to take pictures of the damage to your car, so make sure you report it correctly and note any damage before the accident. We usually don’t like it when people use their phones on the road, but the camera on your phone comes in very handy here.
Try to take pictures of any damage, big or small, to your car from all sides while you are still at the accident scene. Make sure you also write down any damage you see on other people’s cars. When you tell your insurance company about the accident, they will compare what you said or wrote to what the photos show.
It’s also important to tell the police about any injuries you or anyone else gets in the accident, but only after they’ve been treated and are stable. Also, don’t forget about property damage. If you hit another driver’s car and broke the computer sitting on the passenger seat, your insurance company needs to know.
Just like how the accident happened, this is another area where being objective is important: Your insurance company needs to know exactly what they might be paying for, and your claim will look a lot more credible if you don’t make a dent in your fender look like a huge hole in the front of your car.
We know where, when, and what, but who are we talking about? By reading on, you should find out what information you should get from the other person after an accident.
Who was involved with the third digit?
If anyone is hurt in the accident, get them medical help first. You can always write down the person’s license plate number and the police officer’s contact information. Make sure you get the following important information from everyone involved in an accident:
- Name and phone number of the person
- Numbers on the driver’s license and the license plate
- Name of their insurance company and how to get in touch with them
- Number of insurance policy
- names of any passengers and how to reach them
- The make, model, year, and colour of their car are the most important pieces of information.
You should also give your information to anyone else in the accident so that your insurance companies can start working on your claims right away. People often borrow cars from friends or family, so it’s important to know if the person driving the car is the main driver on the insurance policy.
If not, write down the driver’s own insurance company and policy number. Even if it’s not his car, he may still be covered by some of his insurance. You should also watch out for another kind of person at the scene of a car accident. On the next page, you’ll find out what to ask them.
Can I find a witness?
When you’re in a car accident, you might not think about the people watching. But if everyone involved in an accident has a different idea of what happened, witnesses from the outside can be very helpful.
Most of the time, witnesses who weren’t involved in an event can give more accurate accounts of what happened than those there (or biased). First of all, witnesses are usually better positioned to tell what happened because they aren’t in one of the cars. It’s easier to see what’s going on if you’re not in one of the cars.
Most witnesses also don’t have a personal stake in how the situation turns out, so they may be able to give a unique and balanced view. They can also help find patterns and reasons why an accident happened: If this is the fourth accident Joe Onlooker has seen at a certain intersection, your insurance company should look into that.
Even though most car accidents are settled in a friendly way, it never hurts to know the facts if things get bad. Before you go to the accident scene, ensure to get the names and phone numbers of any witnesses in case you or your insurance company need proof later.
Red Flags: Indicators of a Fraudulent Accident Claim
If you think something is wrong, call the police, even if others tell you not to. When an accident makes us angry, it helps to remember that it’s called an accident for a reason—unless it’s not. Accidents that aren’t accidents but are staged or caused by fraudsters to get money from insurance companies or the people involved are called “false accidents.”
Ninety per cent of accidents are real accidents, but there are a few warning signs that could mean something else is going on. Watch out for older or more expensive cars, damaged cars or driving slowly, and cars that change lanes a lot. The way a driver acts is also a good sign: People who fake accidents usually try to scare the victim into admitting fault, and they may act aggressively or threaten the victim.
If you think that a fake accident has happened, you should tell your insurance company and the police right away. The more specific information you can give about the car and the driver, the more likely your claim will be handled quickly and fairly. On the next page, you can read more about car accidents, insurance, and how to deal with both.