No matter how careful you are out on the road, there’s always a chance you could be in an accident. But what do you do if it actually happens?
Whether you hit another car (either empty or occupied), a person, or someone’s property, California law requires you to stop and exchange information with the other people involved. Even if the damage doesn’t look serious, you’re still required to stop. If you don’t, you can be charged with a hit and run — meaning that you can end up in jail by the time all is said and done!
California law also requires you to call the police if anyone was injured or killed in the crash.
2. Get as much information as you can
Yes, you’re required to exchange information with the other driver, but that doesn’t mean he can give you his first name and take off. Instead, you should get as many details as you can — like his full name, address, driver’s license number, phone number, and insurance information. You should also get as many details about his car as you can — including the name of the registered owner, the vehicle identification number, the make, model, and license plate number. Plus, get the names and phone numbers of any witnesses to the crash. That way, if something happens later, you (or your insurance company) won’t have to go on a wild goose chase.
Use the Shift Insurance Free Accident Cheat Sheet for help documenting the accident:
If you hit a parked car or a piece of property and you can’t find the owner, leave a detailed note behind with all of your information. Most people don’t know this, but refusing to provide your insurance information is actually a crime in California. Do it, and you risk getting hit with a $250 fine!
3. Take pictures
Got a smartphone in your pocket? Use it to document the damage! Take pictures of your car, the other car, and any other evidence at the scene (like skid marks, broken glass, etc.). That way, you’ll have solid proof to back up your story later.
If the cars involved in the crash can be moved, take a few pictures before you move them out of the flow of traffic. Then, take more pictures after you move them.
4. Don’t admit fault
This is not the time to apologize — or, worse, to get into an argument about which driver was responsible for the crash. Anything you say at the accident scene (to the police OR to the other driver) could be used against you later. You’re far better off waiting to talk to your insurance company (and, possibly, a lawyer) before you admit that the crash was your fault.
However, if the police come and write you a ticket, sign it. Contrary to popular belief, signing a ticket doesn’t mean you’re admitting to the violation in question. It simply means that you’ve agreed to appear in traffic court later.
If the police ask you any questions about the crash, stick to the facts. Provide honest, factual answers (like, “I was going 55 mph”), without offering up a bunch of opinions.
5. Call your insurance company
You don’t have to do this right at the scene, but it needs to be done as soon after the accident as possible. That way, you won’t have to explain to an adjuster why there was a delay. You also won’t have to worry about the adjuster questioning whether additional damage was done to your car between the date of the accident and the date you filed your claim.
This isn’t just a matter of convenience, though. Here in California, your insurance policy comes with a “Contractual Statute of Limitations” that specifies how long you have to report a crash to your insurance company. If you miss the deadline, you can lose your right to recover anything from your claim — including even your right to file a lawsuit later!
When you file your claim with your own company, you’ll need to provide specific information, and you may be asked to fill out certain forms. If you’re confused, call your agent. He can answer your questions and make sure you do everything that your insurance company requires of you.
If the other driver was at fault and you were injured, you’ll have two years from the date of the crash to file a claim with his insurance company. That two-year deadline also applies to any lawsuits you may want to file against him or his insurance company.
6. Call the DMV
Here in California, you’re required to report a car accident to the DMV if the damage to either car was more than $750 OR if someone was injured. Specifically, you’ll have to fill out an SR-1 Report of Traffic Accident form within 10 days of the crash. Luckily, your insurance company can give you the form when you file a claim. You can also get one of these forms from the police, your local DMV office, or on the DMV’s website (www.dmv.ca.gov).
7. Stay calm
Being in a car accident — no matter how minor — is scary. However, letting your emotions get the best of you won’t help anything. Whether you’re talking to the other driver on the side of the road, answering the police’s questions, or talking to your insurance adjuster, stay calm. The calmer you are, the more efficient the entire aftermath can be! For more specific information on what to do if you are at fault in a car crash or not at fault in a car crash, read our blog!
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