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Nearly everyone is involved in an auto accident at some point in their lives. That isn’t just talk; it’s backed up by statistics. (More on those in a moment.) Unfortunately, even though most people experience a collision, few people know what to do. This post explains how to protect yourself after a car accident.

1. Don’t Leave the Scene

We know; being in a car accident is scary. But the worst thing you can do is leave the scene. This is considered hit and run, even if there are no obvious injuries. Failure to stop at the scene of an accident is considered a class 2 misdemeanor, according to Arizona State Statute 28-662. Possible penalties include a 12-month license suspension, up to 4 months in jail, and $750 in fines.

2. Protect the Scene – And Yourself

It’s not unusual for an accident to cause secondary accidents. Help prevent this by turning on your emergency flashers (assuming they work). If your blinkers don’t work, a flashlight helps keep you safe while you wait inside your vehicle.

Road flares, hazard signs, or flashing lights are a great way to warn other drivers. We recommend all drivers keep an emergency roadside kit in their vehicle that contains flares, hazard signs, fire extinguisher, flashlight, and first aid kit (at a minimum).

Hazard markers protect you after a car accident

3. Call the Police

Even in an accident without serious injuries, you should always call the police. That doesn’t mean they will come to the scene, but most auto insurance companies expect you to at least try to file a police report. Even if the police do not come to the scene, this helps create a record of the accident.

If the police do agree to come to the scene, leave the vehicles where they are unless doing so poses a safety risk for other drivers or impedes traffic.

4. Exchange Information with the Other Driver

Both drivers should provide their driver’s license and auto insurance information. If you do not have a pen and paper to write this down, snap a photo of the documents with your phone. In addition, ask for the information from the other driver’s passengers. If they refuse to provide it, make a note of how many people were in the vehicle, their physical descriptions, whether you noticed any obvious injuries, and a guess as to age.

In addition to the driver and passengers, take down the information of any witnesses. You want first and last names as well as contact information. These details could come in very handy later.

5. Take Photos of the Scene and Vehicles

Create a photographic record of all vehicles involved in the collision as well as the accident scene in general. If there are any injuries, take photos of those, too. And, it doesn’t hurt to snap a picture of the other driver’s license plate.

6. Create an Accurate Record of the Accident

Record everything that happened in the accident, preferably in writing, although you can also make an audio recording using your phone. Memory is tricky; you will forget details more quickly than you think.

If the police do come to the scene, tell them exactly what happened. If you don’t know the answers to some of their questions, don’t make guesses. It’s okay to say, “I don’t know,” to a question.

Report your accident to the police

And, if you’re asked if you were hurt and you don’t have any obvious injuries, say, “I don’t know” instead of “No.” Many injuries caused by an auto accident do not become apparent until days later. However, if the police report indicates you were not injured, and you later claim injuries, your insurance company may refuse to cover treatment.

Finally, review the police report to make sure statements made by the other driver and passengers are accurate. Also, make a note of the accident report number.

7. Protect Your Rights

One of the most important things you can do to protect your interests after an automobile accident is to talk to your attorney. Every time you speak to someone, you add to the legal record of the accident. That can be frightening, and your insurance company – and the other driver’s insurer – is interested in one thing: paying as little as they can. They review everything you say, looking for ways to minimize the impact to their bottom line.

If possible, talk to your attorney first. He or she guides you through each step of the process. They also offer advice on the best things to say – and what not to say.

8. Call Your Insurance Company

Notify your insurance company about the accident as soon as you’re able. If you aren’t sure about your coverage, this is a good time to ask. The agent will likely ask you questions about what happened, whether there were any injuries, who was at fault, whether you made a police report, and for information about the other driver and any passengers.

As with the police officer, when asked if you sustained any injuries, answer “I don’t know” if there are no obvious injuries. You can follow with a statement that you’re headed to the doctor as soon as you’re able.

9. Seek Medical Attention as Soon as Possible

Even if you have no obvious injuries, it’s always a good idea to visit either your family physician or emergency room after an accident. Again, many of the soft tissue injuries, like whiplash, that occur after an accident don’t manifest immediately. The shock and resultant adrenalin of the accident often protects you from the pain.

10. Create a File

Organize all of the information from your accident, including:

  • The record you created, including the photos you took (if you don’t have a printer, most drug stores provide printing services)
  • The other driver’s information
  • Information from each of the passengers and witnesses
  • Information from your insurance company, including the name and contact information of your claim adjustor
  • Receipts for medical care, car rentals, and any other items related to the accident
  • Your copy of the police report (if you have one) or the case number

Keep your accident file in a convenient place, as you will refer to it every time you talk to the insurance company.

Auto Accident Statistics

According to industry experts, if you drive a vehicle, you can expect to have an accident every 17.9 years. And the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) agrees. According to the NHTSA,  there were over 6.4 million police-reported auto accidents in 2017 (the most recent statistics available). If you began driving at age 16 and live an average lifespan, that means you can expect to have three or four accidents in your lifetime.

If you’re involved in an auto accident, call Liberty Law at 480-305-2121. Unlike the insurance companies, we have your best interests in mind.