Accidents happen. But how well prepared are you to know what to do when involved in an accident? What would your reaction be if your spouse, teen age driver, or one of your parents came home after being involved in an accident and revealed that they failed to call the police or are missing basic information like the other driver’s name, address, vehicle registration…? Would you yourself have gotten all the proper information?
Being involved in an accident is a very unsettling event. It is a unique experience for most drivers. It’s easy to judge the irresponsibility of a driver who, after an accident, failed to take the actions a calm, cool and rational outside observer would expect to be taken. That is, until you are that driver.
Last year my car was backed into by a lawyer in a Stop & Shop plaza. We simply exchanged business cards. I thought he was a professional upstanding resident of the community who was owning up to his responsibility for the accident. When my wife learned I had failed to notify the local police, she insisted that I go to the police station to make a report of the accident. The next day when I contacted him with a damage estimate, he denied ever being involved in the accident. After I explained that I had filed a police report of the accident, his attitude changed.
Last Monday morning an insured called my office to report that “an incident” had occurred on Sunday afternoon. We had already received a faxed notice from an attorney representing one of the occupants of the hit car. My insured was taking the opportunity to return a text message while stopped at a traffic light. He eased up on brake allowing his car to drift forward until it bumped the car in front. He got out and joined the other driver in examining the cars for any indication of damage. Seeing none, they agreed “no harm, no foul” and each left the scene. Within a half hour he was contacted by the Cranston Police and was asked return to the scene. As he approached he could see 2 police cars, a fire truck, and a rescue located 2 blocks from where the incident originally occurred. The police were told our insured had struck the car at this location, and left the scene without regard for injury or damage. The female passenger in that car now reported neck pain and numbness in her fingers. The other car now had a broken tail light. Our insured has now been cited for leaving the scene of an accident with personal injury. This insured is a professional bus driver with a Commercial Driver’s license. A conviction on such a charge will likely result in suspension of his CDL.
A police report doesn’t guarantee that the other driver’s story will remain unchanged. It doesn’t guarantee that “no injury” at the scene will not generate a bodily injury claim. It does assure that an independent, unbiased report of the accident will be part of a public record. It should describe the extent of damage sustained. The police officer will include in the report information that the emotionally distraught drivers involved might fail to gather if left to their own accord. Statements given at the scene carry a much greater degree of credibility than an altered and possibly coached statement made days later.
There are eight steps recommended for every driver involved in an accident.
- Immediately after the contact, stop in a location where it is safe for you to do so while minimizing the adverse impact on traffic. Do not keep vehicles in a highway travel lane if they can be safely moved. Other vehicles may strike the vehicles already involved making matters worse.
- Assist the injured and notify the police. Be sure to advise the police dispatcher of your location, and any apparent injuries. If no response in 5-6 minutes, repeat your call.
- Gather the names, phone numbers, and addresses of any other drivers involved, vehicle occupants, and witnesses. Using your cell phone to take pictures of driver license and registrations is a convenient way to gather the needed information. Often after the accident nerves are frazzled and finding a working pen and clean piece of paper to write this information legibly may be difficult.
- The adage, a picture is worth a thousand words is no truer than at an accident scene. Several pictures are even more valuable. If you haven’t got a cell phone, be sure to write down a description of the accident scene, noting each vehicle involved, and particularly the damage that resulted. If a vehicle had pre-existing damage, note that as well. Keeping busy will help you keep calm, but do it safely so as not to cause a passing motorist to strike you.
- Remain calm and courteous after the accident. Hostility can brew from the emotional distress of being involved in an accident. That’s why police commonly separate the parties of an accident.
- Don’t be publically over judgmental at the accident scene. Statements you make to witnesses or the other party can be misconstrued to imply acceptance of blame. Recognize that the other driver’s actions may have contributed to the accident. Each party involved should be encouraged to gather their individual thoughts to include when writing an accurate statement for the police report. Remain steadfast in what you observed before and during the accident. Allowing others to describe what they think may have happened serves to distort the facts of the actual event.
- Do not hastily accept an offer to settle the claim at the scene of the accident or demands that you pay for damages you caused at that scene. Such settlements will likely result in future litigation.
- Notify your insurance agent or insurance company as soon as possible after the accident. Most people involved in an accident simply want their car fixed with the least amount of disruption to their life. Insurance companies know this and strive to provide that service.