What to Do After a Car Accident

By Gary Hilson
stressed driver making a call after car accident-min.jpg

A car accident, even a minor one, will leave anyone reeling for a few minutes, and knowing you have the right insurance in place to protect you is probably not your first thought. Instead, it’s “what do I do now?”

Your auto insurance is there to help you recover from any losses that result from the incident. The claims process and paperwork will come, so the important thing is to focus on the situation at hand.

Put safety first

The first thing to do if you find yourself involved in a collision is to make sure everyone is okay, starting with each passenger in your vehicle, and if possible, the other parties involved. If medical attention is needed, call 9-1-1 immediately.

If your disabled vehicle ends up in the middle of moving traffic, see if it’s safe to move your car out of the way. But no matter what, make sure approaching vehicles can see you by turning your hazard lights, and ideally, setting out road flares or warning triangles from your emergency car kit.

Once you’ve assessed the status of any affected people and made sure there’s no other immediate risk to you or other drivers on the road, you can access the damages.

When to call the police

If you don’t need emergency services after a collision, you should call the police department’s non-emergency telephone. They can guide you as to what to do next. Canadian law requires that you call the police under certain conditions:

  • If there are any injuries, no matter how minor
  • Pedestrians or cyclists are involved
  • A government vehicle or a vehicle transporting dangerous goods is involved
  • Private, municipal, or highway property was damaged
  • You suspect that another driver involved in the accident broke the law, including driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol

Some provinces have specific requirements when a collision occurs. In Ontario, you must call the police and report to a Collision Reporting Centre if there is more than $2,000 in total damage (not just your car) because of the accident. A similar rule applies in the province of Alberta, requiring you to go to a police station and file a Collision Report Form; not doing so can result in demerit points or a fine. Also, auto body shops and auto wreckers are not permitted to make collision-related repairs of more than $2,000 to any vehicle that does not have a damage sticker.

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Gather all the necessary information

Once you’ve made those important calls to the authorities, you can take down the information you’ll need for insurance purposes.

Be sure to write down the make, model, and licence plate numbers of all other vehicles involved, and get all the drivers’ licence numbers, names, addresses and phone numbers, as well as their insurance policy numbers and providers. Finally, you get the names and phone numbers of any witnesses to the collision.

You also want to document the scene of the accident by taking own street names, addresses and nearby intersections. Take advantage of your smartphone to photograph the scene, including relevant details such as vehicle positions, debris, and landmarks, so you can build the most accurate picture of what happened for your insurer or any authorities that must get involved.

What you shouldn’t do

Even if it’s obvious who’s at-fault, never admit you may have been the cause of the collision while at the scene. And remember, who’s liable from an insurance perspective and who’s criminally responsible for the accident should charges be laid are two separate issues.

Liability is determined in part by insurance companies, as well as provincial at-fault rules, which determine who’s to blame in an automobile accident, and they vary from province to province. Although Ontario is a “no-fault” province, insurance companies still investigate who is to blame after a collision, and provincial law requires that responsibility be assigned to each motorist involved in the accident. A no-fault insurance system means your insurance provider will process your claim and pay for repairs to your vehicle, regardless of who was at fault.

Ontario’s Fault Determination Rules outline more than 40 different collision scenarios to help ensure that all drivers are treated the same. You should never try to resolve the situation or make agreements with other parties involved in the collision without consulting your insurer — that includes accepting fault and who will pay for damages. Let the insurance providers sort that out for everyone involved. Alberta, meanwhile, is in the process of reviewing auto insurance to make it more affordable, with indications of it moving to a no-fault model, which could affect a driver’s ability to sue another in the wake of a collision.

Admitting fault is one of the most common mistakes made after being in a car accident. And the in the age of social media, people are increasingly prone to talk about a collision they’ve been involved — perhaps at the accident scene. Remember that insurance providers and lawyers have become just as tech-savvy and can find any photos of the accident or admissions of guilt posted to Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.

No matter what province you drive in, someone is usually to blame for an accident, even when bad weather is involved, because drivers make choices on the road and how they react is what leads to a collision. A common theme among many accidents, whether it’s a rear-ending, U-turn collision, or multi-car pileup, is the inattentive driver who’s isn’t aware of their surroundings, and other drivers around them are at fault because they didn’t react quickly enough.

Get your insurance provider involved as soon as possible

After calling for medical aid and the police, you should get on the horn to your insurance provider.

You’ll want their guidance when filling out an accident report, which should be done while the incident is still fresh in your mind, as well as getting claims process started on the right foot. Otherwise, you may run into problems processing your claim if you don’t contact them quickly or found to be withholding details, if only because some time has passed, and you forget an important detail.

Knowing what to do at the scene of an auto accident will allow you to stay calm and handle things in the right order, starting with any necessary medical attention. At the same time, understanding your obligations if you’re part of a collision allows you to make sure your rights are respected.

By fulfilling your obligations immediately after a collision, you’re helping your insurance company give you the help you need to recover from the resulting losses, and ideally, minimizing any increase to your auto insurance premium. If your rates do go up significantly, however, it may be worth researching other options by comparing quotes so you can get the best rate you can find.