14 Things to Do Before and After a Car Accident

It’s been a week since I ate my car’s airbag. Feasting on a deployed automobile safety feature is not something you want to do any day of the week. But if you happen to one day get into a car accident, there are things you can do to prevent further injury for yourself and those around you, ways to decrease your expenses, tips to better your chances for health and car insurance claims, and ways to keep yourself sane.

Taking simple steps like keeping an emergency preparedness kit can help you survive the aftermath of a fender bender or even something worse. A car crash sure isn’t my idea of fun, but through my own car accident ordeal I’ve found these 14 things to do before and after a car accident can help you get your motor running again – even if your car is a total write-off. Hugs.

car_accident_crash2

1. Stay in Your Car and Stay Calm

Right after impact my “better half” swung open the door to “see” what was going on. I grabbed his leg and told him to sit still inside the car. I think I made the right decision. The number of cars rubber-necking at our accident or driving past at highway speeds was dangerous, and could have hit us if we walked about in a confused state. Sitting still and waiting for the airbag gas to clear (those things make a mess) gave us some time to collect our thoughts, thank a higher power for our teeth and toes, and discuss what to do next.

In our situation our wrecked car was on the side of the road after the engine cut out, so we weren’t in danger of being hit on the highway by oncoming traffic. If your vehicle is still operable and you don’t have any serious injuries after the car accident, it’s a good idea to drive your vehicle to the side of the road to avoid another crash. If your car cannot be moved, I think it’s safer to just remain in your car with seat belts fastened and hazard lights turned on until help arrives. At this point you may be in shock and unaware of any injuries, so sitting still could prevent further health issues. If your car is on fire, it’s probably safest to vacate that vehicle if you can. :)

2. Report the Car Accident

As soon as the airbag gas clears and you’ve located your cell phone, call the police and 911 – or your emergency assistance equivalent. After our accident I didn’t dial these essential digits since the fellow in the other vehicle was first to his cell phone – I was still chocking on airbag gas.

After the essential emergency digits have been dialed, do stay at the scene of the accident until the police have questioned and reviewed the incident getting your description of what happened. Be prepared to wait a bit for the emergency authorities to arrive, the real world isn’t as quick to respond as those on television dramas.

Soon after the accident be very cautious about your health as not all injuries can be seen. If you or your passengers are not feeling right then call for an ambulance right away.

3. Emergency Preparedness Kit

Planning for a car accident is not a lot of fun, but it could keep you safe. Before stepping into your vehicle today consider if you travel with the essential emergency tools that could keep yourself well in case of a car crash. Here’s a basic emergency car kit list:

Basic Emergency Preparedness Kit

  • cell phone
  • disposable camera
  • pen and paper
  • medical information card – detailing insurance numbers, allergies and conditions that may require special attention if you are not conscious.
  • contact names and numbers: emergency numbers and relatives contacts
  • first aid kit
  • small road cones, emergency flares
  • Mylar blankets

After a flying truck wheel hit our car, I quickly discovered I was not fully prepared for a car crash. I didn’t have my cell phone, we would have loved some small road cones to set around our car to alert passing drivers of the accident, and a Mylar “space” blanket would have kept me warm. After the accident my body temperature dropped drastically and I got very cold waiting for the police to arrive.

There are many companies who put together “Road Assistance Kits” boasting several pieces and gadgets. Many of these kits are pricey and contain cheaply constructed tools so beware if you’re looking for an all-in-one safety solution. A better approach may be to purchase only the items you need (like booster cables, LED flashlights, and bandages) and spend a bit more for quality tools. The last thing you want is an essential tool to break when you need it.

4. Exchange Car Insurance and Driver Details

After an accident, always exchange driver details and take some accident notes. Be sure to use your pen and paper (from your emergency kit) to gather the following:

  • name
  • address
  • phone numbers
  • driver license
  • license plate number
  • insurance company and policy number

In our situation the driver’s name was different than the name of the insured on the accident vehicle – so we had to take down the details for each of the driver and the car owner. My “better half” also wrote down a description of the truck, including: make, model, and color.

5. Locate Any Witnesses

Did someone see the accident happen? Get their name and number just in case you need a witness for the accident. It’s good to know someone can speak up for you in case of a dispute.

6. Don’t Admit Fault

When you come face-to-face with the driver of the other vehicle try not to assign blame or admit fault or liability, even if you think you made the mistake. Let the police and insurance companies do their jobs and use their tools to come to a conclusion. You don’t want to admit to something in a state of shock or sadness.

7. Don’t Share Injury Concerns

If someone asks, “How are you doing?” keep a low profile by saying, “I’m shaken up”. The truth of the matter is you don’t know what is or isn’t wrong with you at this early stage. Besides, you don’t want to make statements while in shock and later have to refute them after seeking the advice of a medical professional.

8. Know What Your Car Insurance and Health Insurance Covers

Knowing your car and health insurance details could save you a lot of grief when dealing with a car accident scenario. It’s always better to know BEFORE an accident that you’re fully covered for ambulance trips, tow trucks, or rental cars. Check your policies for specifics and get extra coverage today for those essentials you’ll need covered if you’re injured or your car cannot make the drive home.

9. Photograph and Document the Accident

Be sure to carry a disposable camera in your emergency kit to photograph the damage to all vehicles. If your cell phone has a built-in camera – then you’re good to go. Take photographs of the damage to your car, the other driver’s car, and the entire accident scene to give perspective of the event. Take wide shots of tire skid markings to show vehicle travel paths. Photographs showing the entire accident can help you make your case to claims adjusters if there is a dispute.

10. Seek Medical Attention

Luckily my “better half” and I didn’t require an ambulance after our accident. But after our car was towed away we did seek medical attention to check over our necks, backs, shoulders, and general health. As small as an injury might seem at the time, get all health concerns documented sooner rather than later. Many injuries will start off as minor pains (like whiplash) which if not taken care of properly could get worse over a few short days. Besides, getting a doctor to document EVERYTHING sooner can only help any insurance claims you need to make later.

11. Report Accident To Your Insurance Company

As soon as your stomach has settled and you’ve gone to the doctor to get checked over, call your insurance company to report the accident – even if the damage seems minor or the other driver wants to settle without making an insurance claim. Seemingly small fender-bender car accidents can reveal major damage later on – like a bent car frame – so get your insurance company in the know sooner or you might be without coverage when you really need it.

12. Call Your Lawyer

I squawk you not. While our car was sitting on the side of the road leaking some funky engine liquid stuff, my “better half” called his lawyer and asked specifically what else he should do before the car was towed. Many of the tips in this article are from that call. Getting your legal beagle in the know sooner may help you get the most from an insurance claim and help you see more clearly when everything seems a mess.

13. Remove Belongings from Car

If you’re well-enough to walk away from the wreck and it’s safe to do so, then don’t forget to remove your valuables from your vehicle before it’s towed. Rescue any driving gadgets, insurance papers, repair reports, receipts, purse, wallet, or music before leaving your keys with the tow operator.

14. Be Thankful

After our accident I was very thankful to still be alive with my “better half” in one piece. Sure, our car is a complete “write-off” but vehicles are just stuff. People are priceless. Try the best you can to be thankful for what you have today, not for what you lost.

Got anything else to add to this list? Your wise words may help thousands.

Your two cents:

  1. Mrs. Micah April 16th, 2009

    People are, indeed, priceless. I think your suggestion to have blankets is particularly good. You never know what kind of weather you’ll crash in and if there’s nowhere warm to sit, things could get quite bad.

    I would add that it’s probably a good thing to have snacks in the car. My husband isn’t diabetic, but he has low blood sugar issues and when something really bad happens, he burns through his energy a lot faster. He’s quite capable in emergencies, but after a certain point he needs to recharge or it gets a lot harder for him. I think perhaps having granola bars or something else that’ll provide a boost and last in a car without getting icky would be best.

  2. Kerry April 16th, 2009

    @Mrs. Micah Awesome suggestion on the snacks. Totally missed that one!

  3. Doctor S April 16th, 2009

    @Mrs. Micah – the snacks is great, my dad is diabetic as well and im constantly driving him around.

    Sorry to hear bout the accident Fox. I was in one about 6 months ago where the driver rear ended me and then fled the scene, only to return later. The 18 year old boy said he was scared and wanted to go pick up his mother to speak for him.

    Some things to add, do not take out your frustrations or anger on the police. This may seem obvious to some, however, sometimes people are so worked up from being hit that they do not realize what they are saying!

    Also, finding a body shop that you trust to deal with is always a good thing. My family has used the same one for years, when I got hit, he told me to drop the car off and leave the claim number with him and he will take care of everything else. It was such a hassle trying to listen to the other person’s insurance (GEICO) try to persuade me to take it to their shops, even if they were going to pay for everything!

  4. Bruce April 16th, 2009

    I wrote an article a few years ago for a bicycling magazine on what to do following a crash. In researching it, a doctor strongly suggested keeping a “pain diary” following a crash. Some injuries are not evident until the shock has worn off. A “pain diary” kept for days, weeks or even months can document symptoms you might not be able to recall when talking to your doctor.
    Sorry about your crash, enjoy your blog a great deal.

  5. Riscario Insider April 16th, 2009

    Excellent points in the article and comments. At the time of an accident, how much can we really remember? We should keep a copy of this post in our emergency kit as a reminder.

    I hadn’t thought about having small road cones or a disposable camera. Being nondescript about potential injuries is a great idea too — much better than acting heroic and saying you’re okay. How would you know?

    Wasn’t your accident on a statutory holiday? I’m surprised that you could reach a lawyer and wouldn’t have thought of calling one.

    I’m glad you were off the highway and that the other driver stopped to help.

  6. jeremy April 16th, 2009

    i’d add that adding candles to your kit is always a good thing. If you have an accident during the winter, you’ll be thankful you have them. Those cheap ikea candles will usually do.
    If this happens during work, don’t be shy to blab about all that hurts. If you don’t and six months later your back starts acting up, you’ll be SOL according to WCB.
    Since i worked up north this winter, i added a sleeping bag to my safety kit.
    Lastly, keep an extra set of lights, windshield wipers, oil, antifreeze and Windshield washer fluid; if you’re getting tired, stop, sleep for a bit; once in a while, stop and take a break.
    AND, when you get a flat tire, FIX IT or you’ll find yourself in the middle of nowhere wih two flat tires.
    sorry for being a bit of a wind bag.

  7. Daphne @ Joyful Days April 16th, 2009

    Hi Fox,

    So glad to hear you and your partner are well. That was the thought that stayed with me after a wreck 3 years ago as well. I had two passengers in the car, including a young boy, and there were two people on the motorbike. All 5 of us were alright despite both vehicles being totalled. For months after that I just never stopped giving thanks for us all being ok. The rest of your advice is very sound, and I know this from personal experience.

  8. Alex April 17th, 2009

    I’d rather not tell the police your description of what happened. You’re in shock after accident and your description can be very inaccurate. Besides, you’re risking making some written statement that will complicate proving that the accident wasn’t your fault. (It took my friend 5 years in courts to prove that the other driver was guilty. Only then he got the money for his totally wrecked BMW.)
    Let the police document facts they can see and measure.
    Then, when you have calmed down (next day), write your version of how the accident happened and let your lawyer or insurance company revise it.

  9. MoneyGrubbingLawyer April 17th, 2009

    Fox, sorry to hear about the accident, but glad to hear that you walked away! I must admit that looking at your pictures is a little eerie for me, because my car is almost identical to yours (but a couple of years newer)- same model, same colour. Go Subaru!

    Alex makes a good point about giving a statement to police- you are under no obligation to give a statement, regardless of what the police might tell you. Take some time to get it straight in your head, and let your lawyer review any statement before you provide it. The immediate aftermath of an accident is not the time to try to give a coherent, accurate statement!

    Best of luck in getting things sorted out and in your recovery!

  10. Saver Queen April 17th, 2009

    Great list, and thanks for ending on that powerful note. It’s so important to remember that stuff is stuff, it is always replaceable. Being thankful for what we have and knowing what is truly important is key to happy life.

    When my partner and I got stranded on the side of a highway on one of the coldest nights of the year with a flat tire and no proper winter clothes (no gloves, no hat) and a cell phone with a dead battery, I realized how important it is to be prepared. As we couldn’t have been less prepared.

    Sorry to hear about this accident. Wishing you the best.

  11. Aman@BullsBattleBears April 17th, 2009

    That is a great, easy to follow list with some essential things. I also have candle and water proof matches in my trunk too. One lit candle can be the difference between life and death if your car broke down in the winter, or even worse was spun into a ditch where it might take a while to get rescued.

    Also, before an accident, be alert! Not all accidents can be prevented, but many can be if people put down their secondary items and focused on the task at hand.

    Another good thing is taking a refresher driving course, many big cities offer winter defensive driving courses where you are given lesson on how to get out of a spin out while driving full speed and other useful maneuvers.

  12. Trevor @ Financial Nut April 17th, 2009

    I guess you would now be an expert, right? :]

    Thanks for all of the advice. Very good list.

  13. FupDuckTV April 17th, 2009

    Again, I’m happy both of you were ok. Stuff can be replaced, people are harder to replace (but not impossible (but that is a whole’nuther topic))

    The “Call your Lawyer” tip was interesting. It sounds like a good idea, but I don’t have a lawyer let alone have one on speed dial. I would think this would be something to do later on, but you point has merit.

    I personally would have approached this article from two angles: its my fault and its not my fault. I would think the checklists would be completely different depending on the situation.

  14. Catgurl April 17th, 2009

    Great tips and sharing of info. Main thing is that both of you are okay.
    One other thing I cannot stress enough is documentation. Whenever you remember anything, just write it down, and write down the day, time and name of whoever you talked to whether it is at ICBC or anywhere else.
    Being calm and not getting confrontational or angry helps. I remember my accident about 5 years ago, the woman from the US was freaking out and jumping all over me, screaming, cursing, etc. even though she had purposely ran the light. I just told her that I had called the RCMP and anything she had to say, she could discuss with my adjuster. That shut her up pretty fast. The RCMP came and I couldn’t believe the dramatics she put on about how scared and all that. However, she shut up quick when the RCMP gave her a ticket.
    An umbrella in the car is good to have especially if it is raining outside.
    Physiotherapy is good if even if you feel that it is just minor sprains and so on. You do not realize how your body moves in an accident. I am sure that you are still discovering bruises in places that you may not recall hitting.

    Something I used a lot of after my accident for the bruises and sprains is “Salonpas”, a Japanese medicated patch.
    http://www.salonpas.us/
    You can get it at Superstore or London Drugs, but at the Chinese herbal shops, you can get it for about $2 for a pack of 20 patches. They sure helped me. It does stick, so beware of putting it on areas of thick body hair, it will pull it off!

    Just my two bits.

  15. Ron@TheWisdomJournal April 17th, 2009

    Great tips and so glad you and your husband are going to be okay.

  16. Craig April 18th, 2009

    Great advice, but I have a few caveats.

    1. What if you don’t HAVE a lawyer? How you do get one? Maybe you could blog on that.

    2. I have enough survival gear in my Forester that I would need help to carry it. Dazed and confused, I wouldn’t be able to do it. It is worth hundreds of dollars.

    3. A sad commentary it is that the first person we should call is not our mother, but our lawyer. Society basically needs to pack it in right about now.

  17. carla April 19th, 2009

    I really need to get my emergency kit together for my car. Though we have an earthquake kit for the home, I havent even thought about the cars…

  18. sarahnb April 23rd, 2009

    Don’t forget to replace your car seats. :)

  19. Sheila January 30th, 2010

    Several good ideas on here. But another life saver especially with it being winter. Is you tear the liner off of the ceiling of your vehicle. Use any newspapers or magazines to cover your legs. Put the liner over you like a blanket. If their is more than one person in the vehicle sit close as possible for body heat. Keep a pre-paid cell phone in your emergency kit. You can get one at most stores for $30.00 that included 300 minutes. Put $10.00 of minutes on the phone every two months. This will not only increase your amount of minutes on the phone but it will increase the amount of time that your minutes remain on the phone. Several states have a free cellphone for emergencies program. You get a free cell phone that has 80 minutes on it for free and you can add more minutes for a small fee. More states are on the list to have this program soon. I suggest reading up on this subject online in order to be better prepared in a emergency. Purchase one of the signs that go in a vehicle window that says call police. You could have several hundred vehicles pass you by. Better to be prepared. Mom of 8 in Texas.

  20. Margy November 10th, 2010

    Just have one thing to add – even though this post is quite old now – but everyone should have a SEAT BELT CUTTER in their car. One close at hand. When I rolled my car, I was trapped upside down for almost 5 minutes, unable to free myself. Luckily the ditch I was in was filled with snow….not water. Not all accidents end up with you staying up-right.
    The next day I went out and bought a cutter that hangs from my key chain – and got one for everyone else in my family as well.
    So a seat belt cutter and something to break glass with is an extremely important safety tool for the car.
    Safe driving everyone!

  21. faith tamakoe February 14th, 2011

    it good to drive with much care,and always have your first aids with you in the car.

  22. Mar Schaeffer June 29th, 2011

    Loved your article what to do before or after a car accident.
    I have one more idea that EVERYONE should have programmed in
    their cell phone it’s ICE (Immediate Contact Emergency) add the phone and name of a person to contact in an emergency. Remember you were assuming the person is alert (?) and unhurt. If the person unable to speak or to rattle to think clearly, the police and emergency service people
    are trained to check a person cell phone and look under ICE in your contact list. If you have this info available it be the first person they can contact in your time of need. Remember to place both a name and phone number under the listing of ICE vs that person’s name. I recommend you do it now while you still remember. Pass this info on to all your family and friends as well.

  23. Natalie November 24th, 2012

    I know this is an old article, but after stumbling upon it after my accident today…

    One more thing to carry in your emergency kit is one of those reusable grocery bags that folds into a tiny pouch. I luckily had my big one from ikea and filled it up with all the stuff I needed from my car. Also could have been used as a blanket, had I needed one. I also used my flashlight.

    Also, take a picture of their insurance and drivers liscense. As shaken up as i was I hardly know if either if us wrote everything correctly. (Also make sure there’s a pic with their liscense plate along with the damaged parts of the car)

    And since I’m going to the doctors office tomorrow morning to get checked out, I’m not allowed to go to sleep for 6 hours in case of concussion. I’m a little disoriented

  24. Tamatha March 21st, 2014

    I carry Arnica and a small unopened bottle of water in my vehicle. Arnica helps with swelling and bruising.

  25. Thomas Canttell October 12th, 2014

    Thx so much for this. This really helped me get through my first accident.

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