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What to Do When a Car Accident Happens!

Unpredictable and unexpected, car accidents are distressing for everyone involved whether they or a loved one is in the accident.  After my two car deer accidents, just 85 days apart, one of my sons was the victim of a hit and run accident in Pennsylvania.

Getting that call was incredibly traumatic as it’s the call no parent ever wants to receive.  As a result I came up with a list of advice that can be used for any parent educating a child on what to do in case of an accident.

Of course we try and we want our kids to try to be the best and safest drivers they can be.  That’s what’s in our control.  But accidents happen and having a checklist of things to think about before, right after and in follow up to an accident helps you make sure  you don’t miss a key step or action.

This advice is for any type of vehicle accident – not just with another car, but with an animal or a guardrail or debris in the road or anything.

Before Anything Happens Make Sure:

  • Your vehicle is insured.
  • The vehicle is registered with the Secretary of State.
  • Your license plate tab is up to date.

It’s a good idea to check several times per year to make sure the information you have in your vehicle – registration and proof of insurance – is current. You don’t want it that information to be at home when you need it most!

The Safety of it All:

  • Keep your car in top-notch mechanical working order.
  • Routinely check that all of your headlights, taillights and turn signals are working.
  • Use your vehicle’s safety equipment: turn on those headlights and use the turn signals in plenty of time to alert other drivers of your intention.
  • Brake ahead of time rather than slamming on the brakes and the last minute.
  • Wear your seatbelt and insist your passengers do too.
  • Keep your vision checks up-to-date. Wear glasses or contacts as needed and sunglasses on bright days

If an Accident Happens:

STOP your vehicle immediately and move only if it is safe to do so.  If possible, get your car as far out of the flow of traffic and follow the safety steps listed below.  Then, if your car is not drivable but you can safely exit your vehicle get out and stand on the side of the road out of the way of any traffic.

  • Turn on the emergency flashers.
  • BREATHE – take a moment and see how you are feeling as well as any passengers in your car. We often go into shock so use the first moments of adrenalin wisely.
  • If your car’s communication system or your Apple watch hasn’t called emergency services find your phone and call 911. If there are suspected injuries make the call before doing anything else.

Why call 911?  They are there to assist.  Even if you’re not badly enough injured to need an ambulance you may need assistance getting out of your vehicle, calling family or friends, or arranging for a tow.  Local 911 staff can and will assist you in those first moments.  You also NEED an officer to take a report of the accident for your insurance company. If you have damage you intend to turn in for an insurance claim you MUST have a police report/report number to start the process. Don’t think your call is a “bother”. Police and EMTs are there to help and calmly walk you through the next steps you need to take.

If you’re in unfamiliar territory or your technology doesn’t have location services turned on try  your best to figure out exactly where you are to guide first responders to you.

My Experience: In my case, I hit two deer in a span of 85 days, and I needed help to both get the deer out of the road and to have one of the deer quickly and safely euthanized.  These are things we don’t just think of on a daily basis.  The law in Michigan is that you must have a Highway Kill Permit to euthanize an animal that you have hit with your car.  That is not something I even knew about, much less had, so an officer had to kill the deer.

About Negligent Drivers: It’s VERY important to hold negligent drivers responsible for their actions, not only legally, but financially.  The level of reimbursement you may get depends on state laws (Michigan is a no-fault state) but if the other driver is at fault you may be able to file a mini tort to recoup some of your deductible costs (Need to check if this is the correct language).  And always report a hit and run or property damage incident regardless of whether you saw it or had any injuries, as long as it is SAFE for you to do so.  If it is your property or you saw someone else’s property (car, etc.) damaged, report it and take notes of details.

Information to collect: If you believe that you aren’t physically injured and can safely exit your car at this point, it is really important to try to remember to take note of as many details as possible of the accident to provide to the police and insurance company.  As safely as possible do the following:

  1. Obtain names, addresses, telephone numbers, and driver’s license numbers from all drivers involved in the accident with your car.
  2. Obtain license plate(s) and vehicle identification numbers (including pictures, if possible). Ask to see driver’s license(s) and vehicle registration(s) to verify the information is accurate.
  3. Obtain names, addresses, and telephone numbers of other passengers and any witnesses to the accident.
  4. If you have cell phone that works and has a still-functional camera, you can and should take photographs or video (or both) of the damage to the cars that were involved (if you can) but mainly to YOUR car, as well as the accident scene (traffic controls, visual obstacles, debris, street signs), and the other driver(s) (an actual photo of them as they may not provide ID at all or may provide false ID), including the other driver’s car(s) and showing make, model and license plate, if possible).
  5. This is VERY HARD to remember in a traumatic situation, but, if you can, put notes in your phone with as much detail as possible if you can’t take pictures. This may be the safer, less confrontational way, to take down information that will be necessary for the police report.
  6. If you are a witness to an accident in some fashion, and the owner(s) of a damaged car(s) or damaged property cannot be located, leave a note with the names and addresses of the driver and owners of the involved cars, if you have that information.
  7. Once you have reported the accident to the police and are cleared to leave the scene (if you are injured, have a family member do this) notify your agent and/or your insurance company immediately.

Practice self-care after any accident.  Any accident is traumatic and shock happens relatively quickly and easily. So just take care and when you can get home, relax and be mindful of your body.  Some internal injuries may not truly be apparent until the second or third day.  I didn’t know I had bad whiplash until day three.  If you start to develop strange symptoms, contact your doctor, clinic or hospital and let them know the details of the accident and exactly how you are feeling now.

Be safe everyone!  Hopefully this information can help.  I always thought my children knew how to respond to car accidents, because I had been in a very severe one when they were of an age to remember, but we need to use our words and give detailed information to our children – and any of our loved ones, friends and neighbors to help them navigate in a traumatic situation.

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