What to do after a car accident

A step-by-step guide to reporting an accident and filing a claim.

Anna Swartz


Anna Swartz

Anna Swartz

Managing Editor & Auto Insurance Expert

Anna Swartz is a managing editor and auto insurance expert at Policygenius, where she oversees our car insurance coverage. Previously, she was a senior staff writer at Mic.com, as well as an associate writer at The Dodo.

Published February 22, 2019 | 4 min read

Policygenius content follows strict guidelines for editorial accuracy and integrity. Learn about our editorial standards and how we make money.

A car accident can be scary and overwhelming. It’s hard to remember what you’re supposed to do in the moment, let alone keep track of all the information you’ll need to file a claim with your car insurance provider. But we’re here to help — this step-by-step guide will keep you on track and help you gather all the information you’ll need to report your accident to your auto insurance provider and file a claim.

1. Get to safety

The first thing you should do after an accident is evaluate the scene. Check yourself and your passengers for injuries (it might be smart to keep a first aid kit in your car for occasions like these). If it’s safe, and if you’re able, move your car somewhere away from the flow of traffic, like the shoulder of the road — if there was another driver involved, they should do the same.

Turn on your hazards or light road flares so other drivers will see your stopped vehicle and slow down.

Even if you’re not injured, take a moment to collect yourself: An accident, even a minor one, can leave your heart racing and your adrenaline pumping. Then, if it’s safe to do so, get out of the car so you can wait for help. Whatever you do, don’t just leave the scene of the accident, doing so could have serious legal and financial repercussions.

2. Call 911

Calling 911 after an accident is important, even if no one appears to have been hurt. Police will be able to evaluate everyone involved for injuries, and they’ll document the accident in a police report, which will come in handy later if you make an insurance claim.

Depending on where you live and the severity of the accident, your state may legally require you to report an accident to police.

You’ll want to give any responding officers all the facts of the accident, but avoid assigning blame one way or the other. It’s up to insurance adjusters to determine who was at fault for an accident, not you or the other driver.

3. Collect all the required information

This is one of the most crucial steps to take after an accident, but it’s also easy to get frazzled and forget to collect the documentation you’ll need. Your car insurance carrier may provide a checklist either online or through a mobile app, but for reference, here’s the information you’ll want to collect at the scene of an accident:

  • Names, addresses and phone numbers of everyone involved in the accident

  • License plate numbers of every car involved

  • Make, model and color of every car involved

  • The insurance provider name and policy number of everyone involved

  • The time and location of the accident

  • Names and contact information for any witnesses

  • Names and badge numbers of any responding officers

4. Document the accident

The more documentation you have when you file a claim, the better. Take photos of any damage to vehicles or other property as well as any injuries. You’ll want to photograph everything from multiple angles, and it might be a good idea to snap a picture of the other car’s license plate just in case.

You should also take photos of the accident location, and you can even diagram the accident while it’s fresh in your mind. It might also be helpful to write down a timeline of events while you still recall it. If your carrier offers it, you may be able to take photos right in a mobile app so they’re ready for you when it’s time to file a claim.

5. File a claim

Aim to contact your insurance provider and file a claim as soon after the incident as is reasonably possible. The longer you wait to file a claim, the more likely it is that your claim will be denied.

Your carrier likely gives you multiple options when it comes to how you want to file, you may be able to do it online, through a mobile app or over the phone. You may even be able to start the claims process while you’re still at the scene of the accident.

Once you file an insurance claim, you’ll be assigned a claims adjuster whose job it is to investigate your accident and determine how much of your car repairs or medical care will be covered by your insurance. They may also direct you to repair shops, and help you get a temporary rental car while yours is in the shop.

6. Stay on top of the process

Your carrier likely gives you multiple options when it comes to claims tracking as well — you may be able to check your claims status online or on a mobile app.

It’s important to stay in touch with your insurance carrier — they’ll need you to provide documents like bills and receipts in the days or weeks after the accident. As you go through the claims process, remember to keep copies of everything related to the accident. The last thing you want is to have your claim denied because you’re missing a crucial document.