A car crash is a scary thing. Car crashes can happen when you’re minding your own business. Even when you are an exceptionally good and careful driver. Let’s look at what happened to one driver, a mother of small children on her way home from work:
Betty was driving home from the dental clinic where she worked as a dental hygienist. She was thinking of swinging by the grocery shop to pick up what she needed for Taco Tuesday, something Betty’s whole family looked forward to each week. As she coasted to a stop at a red light, she smiled; thinking of how her children would greet her with hugs and kisses when she arrived home. Then all of sudden, she felt a bump and her car lurched forward. Betty had been rear-ended.
“Oh, no!” she moaned. “What should I do??”
Car Crashes Happen
Driving is something we take for granted, but it is not without its perils. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) tells us that car crashes are responsible for more than 2 million injuries and over 30,000 fatalities each year. That makes driving one of the most dangerous activities we do.
Even the most responsible driver, well versed in driving defensively, can wind up in a collision. That is why it is important to be prepared so you know just what to do in the event of a car accident. A car crash is scary, and it is easy to lose your cool or think of the next steps you need to take. Here are some tips on how to respond in the event of a car crash:
Take deep breaths. It is normal to feel emotional after a car crash. You may be experiencing fear, anger, guilt, shock, or nervousness. All of these feelings are normal. Deep breath can help calm these feelings, so you can better deal with the aftermath of the accident. Begin with ten deep breaths and then assess the situation. Is it a serious car accident?
Report the Car Crash
Stay safe. If it’s not possible or if it’s unsafe to leave your car, remain with your seatbelt fastened. Switch on your hazard lights, and if possible, call 911 to report your situation. Wait for assistance. If the collision seems minor, shut your motor and locate your first aid kit. If it feels safe to leave your car, use flares, orange cones, or warning triangles to mark off the site of the crash.
If no one is hurt and it is still possible to drive your car, move the vehicle to somewhere safe, away from traffic, for instance on the shoulder of a highway, or a nearby parking lot. Keep in mind that in some states it is illegal to remove a car from the scene of an accident, so it’s a good idea to find out now, by way of being prepared.
Check all passengers for injuries, including yourself. Note that not all injuries are visible to the eye. If anyone feels a little off, seems out of it, or us a bit dizzy, call 911 or another emergency number to request assistance.
When calling 911, be prepared to tell dispatcher your name and phone numbers in case the authorities need further information later on. Describe what has happened, and how the situation is at present, describing injuries, possible traffic hazards, or whether there is a fire. Next, you will need to tell the dispatcher your location, using whatever information you can think of to help the police or other emergency assistance to find and reach you. Stay on the phone until the dispatcher says it is okay to disconnect.
The police may or may not come to the accident site, in particular if no one is hurt. But you can certainly ask them to come if you need help mediating with another driver, or to figure out what caused the crash and who is at fault. If the police do not show up, you will need to go to a police station and file a vehicle incident report.
Get the Other Driver’s Information
Ask to look at the license of any drivers involved in the crash and jot down their license numbers. Get their names, addresses, phone numbers, insurance company, policy number, and the number of the license plate. If the driver does not own the car involved in the crash, make sure to get the information of the owner, as well.
Take notes on the crash, describing what you see. If you are able to do so, take pictures, and put the description in writing. These details and descriptions may help your insurance people or the courts to decide who is responsible for the crash. Describe the cars involved in the collision, including year, make, model, and color. Take photos not just of the accident and the vehicles involved but the surrounding area to show any damage, road conditions, traffic signs, and the direction from which each vehicle came from.
Talk to Witnesses
If possible, draw a diagram of the accident scene, marking the position of each car, where they were coming from and in what lane the crash occurred. Note the date, the time, and the weather. If there are witnesses, see if they will provide their names and other contact information to help back you in the event that a driver involved in the accident is not telling the truth about the details of the crash.
These are the steps to take in the best-case scenario of a minor accident. If the collision is more serious, for instance, your airbag inflates; the best thing to do is to call the police.
You might think the crash was your fault, and want to say so. But even when it looks like an accident is your fault, that might not be the case. It is up to the insurance companies to determine fault. For this reason, insurance companies recommend that drivers not admit they are at fault or accept blame at the scene of a car crash.
After the Crash
It’s normal to feel shaken after a crash. But when difficult feelings persist or become stronger, it’s important to get help. Sometimes these lingering emotional difficulties are symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PTSD can occur right away or up to months later. Signs of PTSD include:
- Not wanting to talk about or think about the crash
- Feeling anxious, irritable, or angry
- Postponing or avoiding medical tests and procedures
- Continually going over the crash in your mind
- Difficulty sleeping or bad dreams
It can help to talk about the car crash with family or friends. But if talking about what happened doesn’t help, speak to your doctor. If you are afraid to see your doctor, ask a friend to accompany you.
Car crashes are all too common, so it can help to know that you are not alone. Accidents happen. The main thing is to stay calm, stay safe, and get help.