Automotive Research

What to do after a car accident

You’ve been involved in a car accident. What do you do now? 

This is a good time to keep a cool head so you can limit or prevent any additional injuries or property damage.

Start by taking a deep breath and then carefully surveying 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 aren’t necessary. Most importantly, be polite and don’t accuse anyone of causing the crash.

Your responsibilities & options

  • Do I have to stop after a car accident if it wasn't my fault? Yes. Most state laws require you to stop for any crash with a moving vehicle, a parked vehicle, a pedestrian, or someone’s property. If you drive away, you could 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 it could 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, such as a burning car.
  • Prevent additional injuries. Individuals involved in minor car crashes, with minor or no injuries, should move their vehicles to the side of the road to avoid accidents with other traffic. 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 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.
  • Don't leave the scene without exchanging information. Exchange names, driver’s license numbers, home addresses, phone numbers, and insurance information with all drivers involved. Also note the color, make, model, year, and license plate number for each car involved. Get the names and phone numbers of any passengers.

Additional info to get in an accident

Gather as much information as safely possible. Sketch out the accident and positions of the vehicles involved. Note the exact location of the crash and how it happened. Record the date, time, weather, and road conditions when it occurred. Photograph the location and the cars involved if you have a camera (or use your cellphone 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 provide detailed, factual information such as: “I was traveling at 35 miles per hour.” Don’t complicate things by accepting fault or blaming another driver. Get the names and badge numbers of the police officers and other first responders involved. Write down the police department(s) involved. Ask the officers 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 there are no injuries.
  • Report the crash: Make sure you report the car accident to your insurance company immediately to start the claims process and get your vehicle repaired or replaced. Consider calling from the scene of the accident to facilitate this. Additionally, write a detailed account of what happened as soon as you can. Include all the details you recorded at the scene: the time of day, weather, and road conditions. This account will be useful when filing an insurance report, or if you become involved in a court case.
  • Accident report: Remember that most states require that an accident report be filed within a few days of a crash if the damage exceeds a minimum cost, or if any injuries were involved.

Other recommendations

  • Don’t discuss the financial limits of your auto insurance policy.
  • Don’t discuss who is at fault for the car accident with anyone other than your insurance company.
  • Don’t sign anything at the scene of the crash other than the police report (or your citation, if one is issued).
  • Refer anyone who calls you regarding the accident to your claims adjustor.

In addition to carrying your cellphone with you, make an emergency kit for your glove box with a pen and paper for making notes and drawing out the accident scene. If you don’t already have a smartphone with a camera, add a disposable camera to photograph the scene of 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 that lists you and your family members’ medical conditions or allergies that may require special attention if you’re injured in an accident. Additionally, make a list of personal emergency contacts and keep it in your glove box.

If your car needs to be towed from the accident scene, remove your personal items, such as your home and office keys (leave the car keys), your garage door opener, and other valuables. Remember to find out where your vehicle is being taken.


Beware of staged car accidents

Up to 10% of auto accidents are fraudulent. Look for the following signs:

  • Vehicles that change lanes frequently or travel at slow speeds
  • Drivers or passengers who frequently look back
  • Vehicles with no working brake lights
  • Older model vehicles, often with previous damage
  • 2 vehicles driving side by side that appear to be communicating with each other
  • Drivers that appear angry or threatening

Always drive defensively and avoid tailgating. If you believe you've been in a staged crash, contact police immediately. Learn more about staged accidents.

AAA Accident Assist

AAA insurance policyholders receive AAA Accident Assist, a program designed to provide immediate and comprehensive solutions for members involved in a crash.1 AAA Accident Assist provides expedited towing service to a repair shop. AAA will contact friends or family members on your behalf, can immediately arrange rental vehicle assistance1, and even complete the claim notice on the phone or at a time of the member's choosing. If you elect to have your vehicle repaired at a AAA Immediate Repair Program shop, we'll schedule a repair without having to wait for an adjuster. All repairs carry a lifetime warranty on workmanship.2

back to top icon