The unthinkable has happened and you are involved in an auto accident. So what do you do now? Despite the temptation, venting your emotions, (e.g., “freaking out”) is not recommended. This is a time to keep a cool head so you can limit or prevent any additional injuries or property damage. Stay calm and carefully exchange information to allow you to meet your legal obligations while preserving your legal rights and options.

We will keep our recommendations to the point so you will have something to put in your glove box to use in the event of an accident. Also, keep the thought in the back of your mind that sometimes an “accident” is no accident.

In the event you are involved in an auto collision, start by taking a deep breath and then carefully survey the scene around you. Evaluate your condition; are you injured? Can you safely exit your car? Collect your thoughts before you act, and keep tensions under control. Make sure you turn the engine off and turn off any accessories (like headlights) that are not necessary. Most importantly, be polite and do not accuse anyone of causing the accident.

What are my responsibilities and options?

  • Do I have to stop? Yes. Most state laws require you to stop whether the accident involves a moving vehicle, a parked vehicle, a pedestrian, or someone’s property. If you drive away, even if the accident is not your fault, you can be charged with a “hit and run” which has severe penalties.
  • Is anyone injured? Immediately take care of any injuries and obtain medical assistance if required. It is usually best not to move someone who is badly injured, since you can make the injury worse. Move them only to avoid the chance of being hit by other vehicles or to pull them out of a hazardous situation like a burning car.
  • Safety first! Prevent additional injuries. Individuals involved in minor accidents, with minor or no injuries, should consider moving their vehicles to the side of the road so other traffic does not collide with them and further compound the problem. If the vehicles are damaged so badly that they can’t be moved, turn on the emergency flashers and set out warning triangles or emergency flares if it is safe to do so.
  • Call the police or highway patrol (911) even if the accident seems minor. Be prepared to provide your exact location of the accident so they can reach you quickly. Explain the situation and be sure to mention any injuries to determine if an ambulance and/or fire engine is needed.
  • Exchange Information:
    • From you: Give each driver involved in the accident your name, driver’s license number, home address, phone number(s), and insurance company and policy number information
    • From the other driver(s): Get the same information and also record the color, make, model and year and license plate number for each car involved; get the names and phone numbers of any passengers
    • From witnesses: Get their names and phone numbers, if possible (provided they don’t pull a disappearing act when they realize they may be called to testify in court)

What other information should I get at the scene of the accident?

Gather as much information as safely possible. Sketch out the accident and positions of the vehicles involved. Note the exact location of the accident and how it happened. Record the date, time, weather, and road conditions when it occurred. Photograph the accident location and the cars involved if you have a camera (or use your cell phone camera if you have one) if it is safe to do so. Also, record the damage to your car and photograph it, if possible.

  • Police Report: Cooperate with the police as they fill out their report and respond honestly to questions and be specific: “I was traveling at 35 miles per hour” – just the facts. Do not complicate things for yourself by saying “it is my fault” to anyone at the accident scene, including the police officer(s) taking the report. (It may turn out the other driver was more at fault.) Get the names and badge numbers of the police officers and other first responders involved. Write down the police department(s) that are involved. Ask the police officer when and where you can get a copy of the police report if one is made. Some police departments will not fill out a report if the damage is minor and no injures are involved.
  • Report the Accident: Make sure you report the accident to your insurance company immediately so they can start the claims process and get your vehicle repaired, etc. Consider calling from the scene of the accident to facilitate this. Additionally, when you get home, write a detailed account of what happened as soon as you can after the accident. Include all the details you recorded at the scene. Include the time of day, weather conditions, and road conditions. This account will be very useful when filing an insurance report, or later, if you are involved in a court case because of the accident.
  • Accident Report: Remember most states require that an accident report be filed in the event of an accident within a few days if the damage exceeds a minimum cost, or if any injuries were involved.

Other Recommendations:

  • Do not discuss the financial limits of your auto insurance policy
  • Do not discuss who is responsible for the accident with anyone other than the police or your insurance company
  • Do not sign anything at the scene of the accident other than the police report (or your citation if one is issued)
  • Refer anyone who calls you regarding the accident to your claims adjustor and discuss the details only with your insurance representative

In addition to carrying your cell phone with you (but we advise against using it while driving), make an “emergency kit” for your glove box that contains a pen and paper for making notes and drawing out the accident scene. Add a disposable camera to photograph the accident and vehicles involved. Consider carrying a flashlight, blanket, first aid kit, jumper cables, and warning triangles or highway flares in your trunk just in case.

Generate a card listing you and your family members medical conditions or allergies that may require special attention if you are treated for injuries sustained in an accident by anyone other than your regular doctor. Additionally, generate a list of personal emergency contact numbers which would be helpful and keep the lists in your glove box.

If your vehicle is going to be towed from the accident scene, take the time to remove all of your personal items, including your home and office keys (leave the car keys), your garage door opener, other valuables, and important personal items. Remember to find out where your vehicle is being taken.

Beware of Fraudulent Accidents

Up to 10 percent of accidents are fraudulent. Here are some tips that can help you avoid becoming a victim. Look for the following signs:

  • Vehicles that change lanes frequently
  • Drivers who look frequently into the rear view mirror or passengers who look behind frequently
  • Vehicles with no working brake lights
  • Older model vehicles, often with previous damage
  • Vehicles traveling at slow speeds
  • Two vehicles, driving side by side, that appear to be communicating with each other (planning an accident)

Drivers who have planned fraudulent accidents may appear angry, aggressive, or threatening in order to intimidate you.

Most Common Scenarios:

  • The vehicle in front of you suddenly stops
  • Your vehicle is boxed in and you are forced into a collision
  • Another driver yields the right of way to you (usually in a parking lot) and then appears to deliberately run into you

Common targets of such accidents are people driving alone, very young or elderly drivers, and drivers of luxury cars. We suggest that you always drive defensively and avoid tailgating. If you believe that you are a victim of a fraudulent accident, inform the police immediately.


1For members with liability-only or other limited coverage with AAA’s affiliate insurer, roadside assistance service is provided under your membership (not your insurance policy), and may be subject to membership restrictions. Repairs, rentals, and other benefits are subject to policy coverages and limits.


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