Always stop. Not only is this the safest course of action, it is the law. In North Carolina, you must report accidents that cause $1000 or more in damage or that result in injuries or deaths. It is very difficult to gauge property damage - there may be structural issues that are not immediately visible, for example - so it is best to call the police even in “minor” accidents.
If you leave the scene of an accident in which there was property damage or minor injuries, you face misdemeanor charges that carry a potential sentence of up to one year in jail and fines. If you leave when there are major injuries or deaths, you could be charged with a Class H felony.
Stop, report, and wait for law enforcement to respond. If it is safe, stay put, and leave the vehicles where they are (this helps with the investigation). If the vehicles are causing an issue with traffic or putting other people in danger, see if you can safely move them to the side of the road.
Check for Injuries
Are you hurt? Are your passengers? What about the other driver and their passengers? Bystanders who may have been struck by vehicles or debris? Do not engage in conversation: just check for visible injuries. If there are injuries (even minor), let the dispatchers know when you call in the accident.
Do Not Admit Fault
Try to limit your interaction with the other driver (except to ask “Are you injured?”). Blurting out a quick “I’m so sorry; are you all right?” is human - but, unfortunately, insurance companies view this as an admission of responsibility. Claims may be denied, and the other driver can go after you for damages. Let your insurance company do the talking.
When speaking with law enforcement, tell the truth but do not add extraneous details. If you are asked a question to which you do not know the answer, say just that, “I don’t know.” Don’t speculate or guess. If you are asked if you are injured, reply that you are going to get checked out as soon as you can. Do not say no. This is not dishonest: car accident injuries may have delayed symptoms, and adrenaline can mask pain.
Seek Medical Attention
The safest route is to get checked out. As mentioned, it can be difficult to determine if you are injured, and how severely, at the scene of the accident. Stress, fear, anger, frustration, relief… all of this can push physical symptoms to the back burner. But serious issues like internal bleeding and head, back, neck, and spinal injuries can take hours or days to appear - and you do not want them to worsen.
Gather Key Information
For insurance and legal purposes, it is important to gather key documents, such as:
- The name of the other driver(s)*
- The name and phone number of the other driver’s insurance company
- The other driver’s insurance policy number and expiration date
- Vehicle details (make, model, color, license plate number)
- Photos and/or video of the scene and any damage (including visible injuries)
*People often advise you to get the address and phone number of the other driver. You do not need to; the information you need is on their insurance card. Think about it like this: do you want another driver - a stranger - to have access to your address and phone number? No. Insurance information will do it.
If the other driver leaves the scene, see if you can get the make, model, color, and license plate number. Take a photo if possible.
You also need a copy of the car accident report from the police. The responding officers should provide you with a confirmation number so you can request the report. This is important for insurance purposes. Also note:
- The date and time of the accident
- Address or approximate address of the accident (road and nearest cross street)
- Direction in which you were traveling and the direction the other car was traveling in
- An account of the accident. Do this as soon as you can because details can get murky or muddled later.
- Driving conditions, such as weather, visibility, obstructions, etc.
- Name and badge number of the responding officers
Contact Your Insurance Company
It’s better to do this sooner rather than later. You certainly don’t want the other drivers’ insurance company to contact them first. Some policies require you to inform them immediately of any accidents, others give you 72 hours.
If you are contacted by the other driver’s insurance company, do you have to speak with them? No. You are not obligated to do so. Refer them to your insurance company, and let them do the talking.
Your insurance agent will be able to help you file your claim. Some even have apps to make it easier. Be sure to get a claim number and ask how you can follow up. Again, most companies allow you to do this online or via an app.
Come and see the expert team at DentFX to get a free same-day damage estimate. We will work with you and your insurance company to ensure the process is smooth, fast, and effective. You can’t always prevent accidents, but taking these steps will help you move on.