Automobile accidents are an unfortunate part of everyday life on American roads. Unless you know what to do when such an accident occurs, you could easily make mistakes that increase both your financial liabilities and your odds of ending up in jail. While you may not relish the need to plan for such an unwanted event, it helps immeasurably to prepare yourself in advance. Here are six important tips what you should never do after a car accident.
1) Don’t Flee the Scene – When you’re involved in any kind of motor vehicle accident, you have a legal obligation to remain on the scene until the authorities arrive and/or you exchange insurance information with the other driver. This obligation applies to “fender benders” just as much as it does to major collisions. It also applies in situations where you damage another person’s vehicle when they’re not present.
Even if you don’t think you’re at fault, fleeing the scene of an accident opens you up for charges of perpetrating a hit and run. In some cases, these charges may only count as a misdemeanor. However, your actions may also leave you open to a felony accusation. If you bump into an unattended vehicle in a parking lot, you may feel safe leaving the scene and just driving away. But in the modern age of cell phones and closed-circuit cameras, you never know when someone may actually have documented the event. With a hit and run on your record, you could find it extremely expensive or impossible to find insurance coverage in the future.
2) Don’t Try to Clean Up the Scene – There are two likely reasons for trying to clean up an accident scene in the aftermath of a crash. First, you may simply want to clear the road for other drivers and prevent further mishaps. In addition, some unscrupulous drivers may actively attempt to alter a scene in order to remove evidence of their guilt or responsibility.
Neither motivation will serve you well. By attempting to remove debris for the safety of other drivers, you drastically increase the chances that you will endanger your own safety and get hit by another vehicle. Also, whether your actions are intentional or not, alteration of an accident scene can bring serious, unwanted attention from the police, as well as your insurance company.
3) Don’t Forget to Call the Police – In the aftermath of a minor or major accident, the police play a vital role by documenting the scene and filing an official report. If you fail to call the police to the scene, you can set yourself up for two significant problems. The first issue is your legal liability for involvement in the accident. In a worst-case scenario, your failure to contact the authorities can result in your arrest, especially if you live in a state the requires you to take this step. The second issue involves your ability to back up your account of the accident. In the absence of a police report, a lawyer could easily cast doubt on your story in any future legal proceedings.
4) Don’t Forget to Call Your Insurance Company – You should also contact your insurance company as soon as possible after an accident occurs. In response to your call, the company will send out an investigator to document the scene and assess its financial responsibilities. When contacting your insurer, don’t forget to mention the need to cover towing costs if your vehicle is too damaged to drive. Depending on where the accident occurs, you may not have the ability to choose which towing service moves your vehicle. However, your insurance company may be able to contact a service on your behalf or provide you with the appropriate contact information.
5) Don’t Forget to Document the Scene Yourself – While the police and your insurance company will document the scene of an accident for their own purposes, you should still carry out your own documentation efforts. Steps to take include:
- Using your cellphone or camera to take photos from multiple angles
- Recording the details of the other involved vehicle(s), including their make, model and tag numbers, and
- Getting personal information from the other driver(s), including their names and insurance providers
In a pinch, the information you record may help clarify any future disputes related to the accident.
6) Don’t Accept Responsibility at the Scene – This may not seem like the greatest or most soothing advice for someone who wants to be a good citizen. However, the simple fact is that an admission of responsibility at the site of an accident puts you in serious legal jeopardy, regardless of your actual degree of guilt. Even the experts at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, a federal agency that promotes safe driving conditions and behaviors, strongly recommend that you avoid making any such legally binding statements before you consult an attorney.