The sad truth is that virtually every driver will be involved in a car accident at some point in their lives. Fortunately, most accidents are minor and involve minimal injuries and property damage. Your car insurance coverage is in place to help you to recover from any losses you may suffer as a result, but it’s still important to know what to do and how to protect yourself and your rights when involved in an auto accident. Here are a few tips to help you when you find yourself involved in a collision:
Move Your Vehicle
You may feel that it’s important to maintain the vehicles in the position where the accident occurred, but if possible, moving your vehicle out of the way of traffic (by pulling on to a shoulder or side street) is the safest option. Turn your car off as soon as possible after an accident to minimize engine damage and the possibility of further danger from leaking fluids, which could combust. If possible, put your hazard lights on to warn oncoming drivers, or set out warning triangles or road flares.
Check with each passenger in your vehicle to see if anyone is injured or requires medical attention. If you’re able, and it is safe to exit your vehicle, check with the passengers of any other vehicle(s) involved to ensure that they too are alright. Call emergency services immediately if anyone is injured or unresponsive.
Assess Damages & Call the Police
In Ontario, you are required to call the police if there are any injuries or if there is more than $1,000 in damage as a result of the accident. You are also required to call the police if you suspect that another driver involved in the accident has broken the law in some way. This could include driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Only dial 911 in emergency situations – if there are no significant injuries or unsafe situations, you should call the police department’s regular telephone line.
Be sure to get the make, model and license plate of any other vehicles involved. Other information you should ask for from any other drivers involved includes: their driver’s license number, name, address, phone number and email address. Ask for their insurance information, including their policy number and provider. You should also take down the names and badge numbers of the police officers at the scene. Make note of the location of the accident including street names, addresses and nearby intersections.
Document the Scene
Make a sketch of the accident scene including all relevant details (vehicle positions, landmarks, etc), so that you have the most accurate representation possible. Many insurance companies recommend keeping a small disposable camera in your glove box to document the accident scene. Alternately, if your cell phone has a camera, or you have a digital camera available, take pictures of the vehicle positions and the damage to each vehicle.
Contact Your Insurance Company
Your auto insurance company will help guide you through the accident reporting and claims processes, and calling them as soon as possible provides the best opportunity for them to give you any instructions you may need. You’ll also be able to provide the most accurate recollection of the event when the accident is fresh in your mind. By contacting the insurance company promptly, you will also allow them to start working on your claim as soon as possible.
Guilty? That’s Not Your Decision!
Even if you feel that you are at fault, you should never admit guilt (fault) at the accident scene. You must cooperate and be honest with the police and with your insurance company, but they will determine who is at fault in the accident based on the evidence. You may not have all of the information you would need to know for sure that you were or were not at fault, and proportionally the amount of fault that the other driver is responsible for. You should not discuss the accident with any representative of the other driver’s insurance company – your insurance company will be the liaison between you and the other driver’s provider.
Knowing what to do at the scene of an auto accident will help you stay calm and ensure that your rights are respected. Making sure you’ve fulfilled your obligations will not only protect you from prosecution, but it will allow your insurance company to provide you the best coverage possible to recover from any losses suffered as a result of the collision.