What to do after a car accident

After you’re in an accident (and you know you and your passengers are safe), follow our step-step-guide and get ready to make an insurance claim.

Andrew Hurst

By

Andrew Hurst

Andrew Hurst

Senior Editor & Licensed Auto Insurance Expert

Andrew Hurst is a senior editor and a licensed auto insurance expert at Policygenius. His work has also been featured in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, USA Today, NPR, Mic, Insurance Business Magazine, ValuePenguin, and Property Casualty 360.

Updated|5 min read

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After a car accident, it’s difficult to keep track of all the information that you’ll need to make a car insurance claim later on. But if you’re one of the millions of people who are involved in a crash each year, taking a few important steps after an accident can make the claims process go much more smoothly. [1]

What you should do after a car accident

  1. Get yourself and any passengers to safety

  2. Report the accident to authorities

  3. Collect information from the scene

  4. Contact your insurance company

  5. Make a claim and stay on top of it

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1. Get yourself and any passengers to safety

The first and most important thing you should do after an accident is to make sure you and your passengers are safe. Try to move your car out of traffic and onto the shoulder if your vehicle is still drivable and conditions are safe. Turn on your hazards so that passing vehicles will know to slow down.

When it’s safe, get out of your car and wait for help. This is a good time to light any emergency road flares if you have them. If anyone was injured, don’t move them unless they’re in danger of being struck by traffic.

No matter what, do not leave the scene of the accident. Doing so, even inadvertently, could mean breaking the law.

2. Call 911 to report the accident

When you and your passengers are safe, call 911 to report the accident. You’ll be able to request emergency medical services with the dispatcher if someone is injured (or you suspect someone might be).

Even if no one was hurt by the accident, it’s important to call 911 to notify authorities after a car accident. Depending on where you live, your state might require you to file a police report after an accident — even where no one was injured — if it caused damage worth more than a certain amount of money.

It’s also a good idea to file a police report for insurance purposes. Some companies require a police report when you make an insurance claim, but even if yours doesn’t, having one can help your claim be resolved more quickly.

3. Collect information from the scene

It’s crucial to collect information from the scene of the accident. The more details you have at the ready, the faster your claims process will be 

Your insurance company may have a checklist online or in a mobile app to help you gather the information you need after an accident, but in general you should get:

  • Names and contact information for everyone involved in the accident

  • Insurance information for any other drivers

  • License plate numbers and descriptions of every car involved

  • Names and contact information for any witnesses

  • Names and badge numbers of any responding officers

  • Time and location of the accident

  • Timeline of what happened before and during the accident

It’s also a good idea to photograph the scene and the damage to your car (you may be able to upload photos directly into your car insurance company’s mobile app).

After a crash that involves another driver, you may not feel comfortable approaching them and asking to exchange information. You don’t have to talk to them right away, you can always wait for authorities to arrive at the scene. A first responder can help drivers get the necessary information from each other.

What do you do after an accident that’s your fault?

Even if you think you’re at fault, avoid admitting blame or apologizing for the accident while you’re exchanging information with any other drivers. Otherwise you could undercut your own claim without realizing it.

For example, you might suspect that you were at-fault after you’re in an accident, but it’s possible that the other driver was driving while intoxicated and you just can’t tell. A claims investigator might also find that both drivers were partially at fault, which would allow you to collect some money from an insurance claim.

If you think you’re at fault for an accident, simply contact the authorities, exchange information with the other driver, and document the scene like you would normally.

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4. Contact your insurance company

If you’re in an accident, contact your insurance company as soon as you can. You don’t necessarily have to make a claim right away, but car insurance policies often require that drivers report any accidents soon after they happen.

There are a few different ways to contact your car insurance company after an accident, and you can usually do it straight from the scene. You can:

  • Call your car insurance company on the phone

  • Report an accident online through a customer portal

  • Report an accident through a mobile app

5. Make a claim and stay on top of it

No matter how you contact your car insurance company, you can start a claim right away, even right from the scene of the accident. You’ll probably have to enter some information immediately, but if there’s something you don’t know or need to look up, you’ll have time.

Once you file an insurance claim, your insurance company will assign you a claims adjuster. The adjuster will determine whether you’re covered and help figure out how much your claims settlement will be. Your adjuster can also answer questions you have about the claims process or about what exactly your insurance policy covers. 

While your adjuster is reviewing your case, stay on top of your claim. You can usually track your claim online or with your mobile app. 

Make sure that you keep up with any deadlines that your policy requires — you don’t want the window you had to make a claim closed because you forgot to send in documents or repair estimates.

Does insurance get more expensive after an accident?

Yes, you should prepare for your insurance to get more expensive if you get into a car accident. Insurance companies set your rates based on factors that give them an idea whether you’re likely to make a future claim or not. After you’re in an accident and made a claim, you’re viewed as more likely to make another.

On average, one at-fault accident increases rates by $832 per year, or 48%. Your rates will generally go down after three to five years of safe driving, though. 

Fortunately, your rates won’t increase substantially if someone else hits your car. We found that having a not-at-fault accident on your record raises your rates by $68 per year.

→ Read about how getting into an accident affects your insurance rates

What happens if you get into an accident without insurance?

If you get into an accident but don’t have insurance, the steps you’d take afterwards would be different than for most people. 

You can still make a third-party insurance claim with the insured driver’s company if they were at fault, but your state might limit the amount of money that you can collect from the insured driver. Plus, there will be other consequences to consider. 

Driving without insurance is illegal in almost every state. If you were in an accident and weren’t insured, you’d be reported to the authorities for driving without insurance when you made a claim to the other driver’s insurance company. You’ll likely be fined and could face more serious punishment for driving without insurance.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What are some important tips for filing an auto insurance claim?

If you have to file an insurance claim after an accident, you should document as much of the accident as you can. That includes writing down the names and contact information of the other drivers involved, photographing your car’s damage, taking the names and contact information of witnesses, and making a note of how the accident happened.

How long do you have to report a car accident to your insurance company?

Usually, you have to let your car insurance company know that your vehicle was damaged as soon as you can after an accident. The time you have to make a claim depends on the type of damage that affected your car. Different insurance coverages have separate time limits.

What to do after a fender bender?

You still have to contact your insurance company if you’re in a fender bender where no one is injured. Your car may still be drivable, but insurance companies require drivers to let them know about damage because it could affect the car’s future performance. If you didn’t report a fender bender, a later claim could be denied if your carrier found out.

References

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  1. NHTSA

    . "

    Estimate of Fatal Accidents

    ." Accessed September 26, 2022.

Author

Senior Editor & Licensed Auto Insurance Expert

Andrew Hurst

Senior Editor & Licensed Auto Insurance Expert

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Andrew Hurst is a senior editor and a licensed auto insurance expert at Policygenius. His work has also been featured in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, USA Today, NPR, Mic, Insurance Business Magazine, ValuePenguin, and Property Casualty 360.

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