Maybe another driver ran a red light, maybe you skidded on icy roads, or maybe a storm wanted to see what the maple in your front yard looked like through your windshield.
Don’t panic. No matter how minor or severe your auto accident, there’s a step-by-step checklist for what to do next. Ensuring everyone is safe always comes first, then collecting information, and finally contacting your insurer and any other parties that may need to know.
Step 1. Stop immediately, but don’t obstruct traffic
If you’re in a minor fender bender, meaning both cars are still running and no one is seriously injured, move out of the way of traffic. But if the damage is severe or someone is hurt, leave your cars where they are. Safety is key. Obstructing the flow of traffic can be a safety issue, but if there’s a more immediate concern (like an injury), the drivers behind you can wait.
Step 2. Assist the injured and have someone call the police
Contacting the police is important, but helping injured people (if you are able) is much more urgent. If possible, ask an eyewitness to make the call so you can give your attention to someone who might need immediate assistance.
Step 3. Get the names, phone numbers, addresses, and insurance information of the other drivers, witnesses, and injured people
Once you’re sure everyone is safe, start exchanging contact information. Remember to get contact info first. If you forget to ask a question or need to clear up some details later, you’ll want to make sure you can get ahold of others (whether they were in the accident or just saw it) after you part ways.
Step 4. Note the make, model, and license plate numbers of all cars involved
Once you have the personal details down, you can focus on the cars. If you don’t have a paper and pencil, snap a photo of the plate.
Step 5. Take photos, or sketch the scene
Without visual evidence, the details of an accident can quickly get fuzzy. Focus on the position of the cars—from multiple angles—and the damage done, both to the cars and any injured people. You want to paint a clear picture of both the cause and outcome of the collision. If there’s a disagreement between you and the other driver, you certainly don’t want a court (or your insurance provider) to choose between conflicting reports.
Step 6. Don’t accept settlements at the scene of the accident
Some drivers will be eager to put an accident behind them without involving insurance. They might even offer cash on the scene for a quick resolution. Don’t take it. It’s difficult to accurately assess the full extent of damage in the moment—both to vehicles and passengers. It could take a few days, for example, to notice your trunk won’t stay closed or before you start feeling the aches of whiplash. If you accept quick cash right after a collision, you could be left without recourse.
Step 7. Stay calm, courteous, and consistent in your version of the events
An accident is an extremely stressful situation for all involved, which is precisely why it’s so important to keep a level head. It’s ultimately the police and the respective insurance providers who will resolve the issue, not you or the other driver. Your only concern is to politely explain your side of the story and to help de-escalate if you see tempers rising.
Step 8. Notify your SELCO Insurance Services agent ASAP
If possible, we recommend contacting your insurance agent before contacting your auto insurance provider. Why? Because your SELCO Insurance Services agent can offer guidance on whether immediately filing a claim is your best course of action. Depending on your situation, you may have multiple options available, and there’s always value in expert advice.
And in case you ever need to call off-hours, SELCO Insurance Services is currently developing an automated phone system to speed up after-hours processes, whether that’s getting advice from your carrier, filing a claim via a direct transfer, or even making policy changes and payments. Look for this system later this fall.
The next steps
As you’re awaiting a resolution, there are additional steps you might take depending on your situation:
- Visit your mechanic. A mechanic can give you an accurate estimate about the extent of the damage, which can be valuable when filing a claim. Don’t get those repairs yet, though! The cash from your claim can’t be applied retroactively.
- File a report with the DMV. If the mechanic’s estimate is $1,500 or higher, the DMV needs to know. Find more information from the Oregon Department of Transportation here, or download the Accident Report Form directly.
- Call the other party’s insurance provider. If you believe you were not at fault for the accident, file a claim with the other driver’s provider. It’s possible the other driver’s policy will cover your damage, so you won’t need to use your own.
The most important advice is worth repeating: Make sure you and the other drivers are safe. Accidents happen, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be prepared for them. And know that your SELCO Insurance Services agent is here to help every step of the way.