With the government's big announcement this week that it plans to make electronic stability control mandatory in all new cars, I have car accidents on my mind. "ESC" is life-saving technology, but there are still going to be plenty of crashes. In fact, every two seconds someone is injured in a traffic accident.
Getting in an accident can be traumatic even if you're not injured. A drowsy driver ran into my car as it was parallel-parked by the side of the road. I was miles away when it happened, but I was still flustered when I found out about it. Because you may be shaky, it's a good idea to keep a checklist in your car of everything you should do after an accident. That way you can just go down the list without worrying that you're forgetting a step. I've prepared this list for you. And, for the record, I'm printing it out right now to put in MY car.
To be a SAVVY CONSUMER…
1. Some jurisdictions want you to move your car out of traffic after a collision. Others require you to leave your car where it came to rest after the crash. Find out what the law is in your area and keep that in mind.
2. If you yourself are not badly hurt, your first responsibility is to take care of others who are. Try to make injured people feel comfortable without moving them.
3. Next step, approach witnesses and ask what they saw. Take notes, including their names and contact numbers.
4. Most car crashes are just fender benders, so your main concern is exchanging information with the other driver. Many people fail to get all the details they need. Write down the other driver's name, address, phone number and driver's license number. Write down the name and number of their insurance company and the policy number. For good measure, get the license plate number of their car and their vehicle identification number (VIN).
5. If police arrive at the accident scene, get their names and badge numbers and press them to make a formal report. Some insurance companies won't process a claim without one.
6. Some states also require people involved in significant accidents to file a written report of their own with state or local authorities. This must be done soon after the accident or you could risk a suspended license.
7. If your car needs to be towed, often tow trucks will just show up or police will call them. Find out if the tow truck is required to honor a rate set by the authorities. If not, don't feel obligated to use the tow truck just because it's there. Call a towing company you trust or call an auto club if you belong to one.
8. Definitely don't feel pressured to let a tow truck driver take you to the autobody shop of his choice. Some shops pay drivers a bounty to bring them business. Get the car towed to your home or to your mechanic if you need more time to choose a good body shop.
9. Although it may seem awkward, experts advise you not to admit fault at the scene of the accident. They say there's a time and a place to take responsibility after the accident investigation is over.
10. Notify your insurance company of the accident within 24 hours. Delaying could result in a denied claim. If you feel the other driver is irresponsible, notify their insurance company too.
11. If it's determined that the accident was not your fault, you'll have to choose whether to make your claim through your own insurance company or the other driver's company. If you make the claim through your own company, you'll have to pay the deductible up front. Your insurance company will then pay for the repairs and go after the other insurance company for reimbursement. You'll get your deductible back when the process is completed. (Contrary to popular belief, it's OK to make a claim when the other driver is at fault. Your insurance company should not raise your rate. If it does, complain to your state insurance commissioner.) I prefer to do it this way because I believe your own insurance company is more likely to have your best interests in mind and be generous. After all, your company isn't the one that will be paying in the end. Of course, if cash for the deductible is a problem, then make your claim through the other insurance company.