It happens more often than you may think: someone is texting while driving and rear-ends you at an intersection. Or, someone jumps the gun and turns left before the light turns green, smashing your taillight.
If you find yourself in a minor accident like a fender bender, don’t panic! If you follow these steps, you can potentially minimize how long (and how much money) it takes you to get back on the road.
How to handle a minor car accident
1. Stop your car where the accident happened
Any time a car accident occurs, you should stop your car where the accident happened, as long as it is safe to do so. In fact, stopping at the scene of the accident is required by law.
Plus, leaving your vehicle where it is makes recording the accident much easier than having to try and recreate it later.
…unless your vehicle is driveable and blocking the flow of traffic
You are required, by law, to stop your vehicle at the scene of an accident. Usually, this means that you will want to leave it right where it is. But, in some cases, you should move it out of the road as quickly as possible.
If your car is blocking the flow of traffic it could be a major risk to oncoming motorists. If your car is still driveable and it is safe to do so, move it off to the side of the road. Not only will this prevent future accidents, but it will keep you safe, as well.
2. Assess yourself for injuries
Once you have moved your car to a safer spot nearby, then it’s time to perform an injury assessment. Typically, minor car accidents don’t result in many injuries, but you should never assume that you don’t have any, even if you don’t feel injured right away. After an accident, it is normal for your adrenaline to be pumping and for you to not notice that you’re hurting.
So make sure you check for:
- Minor cuts.
- Neck pain.
- Changes in vision.
- Changes in hearing.
- Pain in your legs, arms, and chest.
If you have any of these, then your accident may not be as minor as you thought. You should immediately call 911 and ask for medical assistance.
3. Get contact information from the other driver involved
Once you’ve done your injury assessment, the next step is to swap contact information with the other driver involved in your accident. Sometimes, this can be easier said than done, especially if the other motorist is uninsured.
No matter what, do the best you can to get all of the contact information possible and write it down in a secure place.
I recommend recording the following information about the other driver:
- Full name.
- Phone number.
- Email address (whenever possible).
- Insurance company.
- Policy number.
- Driver’s license number and expiration date.
- Make, model, and year of their vehicle.
I’ve found that taking a picture of the other driver’s license and insurance card is the best way to handle this (but make sure you ask first!). That way I don’t risk juxtaposing any numbers when I need them later.
4. Call the police
Even in a minor car accident, it’s usually in your best interest to call the police. This way there is recorded documentation of what happened on file and the scene of the accident can be better secured. Plus, if you aren’t the person responsible for the accident, then it can make getting the necessary repairs done much easier.
Where I live, we are in an at-fault state, which means that every car accident has a party at-fault. If you aren’t the at-fault party, then the other person’s insurance has to cover the cost of all repairs. However, if you don’t file a report with the police in an at-fault state, your insurance will have to foot the bill.
5. Take pictures
While you are waiting for the police to arrive, it’s a good time to start taking pictures. Take pictures of everything you can think of for documentation. This includes:
- Your car.
- The specific damage to your car.
- The other driver’s car.
- The specific damage to the other driver’s car.
- The surrounding area.
- Witnesses near the accident.
- The positions of both cars.
- Any stoplights, stop signs, or traffic nearby.
- The weather conditions.
All of these things can come in handy for the police when they arrive, but they’re also extremely helpful when you are going through the insurance claim process.
6. Call your insurance company
After you have taken pictures, it’s time to call your insurance company. Personally, I like to call my insurance agent directly whenever I’m involved in an accident. This is the easiest and most direct way to get the ball rolling. Plus, my agent gives me advice as to whether or not he feels I should be filing a claim in the first place.
Since this is one of the things I pay my agent for, I always greatly appreciate the insight and assistance. If you have a relationship with a trusted insurance agent, I highly recommend giving them a call before you call your provider’s general claims line.
7. Talk to witnesses, if available
Lastly, whenever possible, it’s great to speak to anyone who may have witnessed the car accident. Witnesses can be integral components when it comes to piecing the accident back together. So do your best to get a statement (including names and contact information) from everyone who saw the accident happen.
These statements could be written or recorded on your phone, but should always be accompanied by the name of the witness and their contact information.
Why you should report a minor car accident to your insurance company
The whole reason you have car insurance is for financial protection. Ultimately, we all hope we’ll never need to use our insurance, but it’s there when we do need it. So, why miss out on the protection that you are paying for?
A big reason to report even minor car accidents to your insurance company is due to potential injuries. If you happen to be the at-fault driver, it’s always a possibility that the other driver can come back and say there were injuries they didn’t know about to begin with. These medical bills can really get expensive, even for perceived small injuries.
So, if you rolled the dice and didn’t report the accident to your insurance company, you’re now on the hook for all of their medical bills. That’s a pretty big risk!
Laws about reporting car accidents
Every state has its own law as to whether or not you have to report the car accident to the police. I know for my state, if the accident causes over $1,000 in property damage it must be reported immediately. Some states have a slightly lower threshold of property damage that must occur before reporting. But, since repairing cars can be so darn expensive, it wouldn’t take much to cause $1,000 worth of damage.
Therefore, in almost all cases, you should report the accident to the police. That way you are covered and there will be a police report documenting everything, as opposed to just he said, she said.
Insurance company requirements regarding reporting car accidents
Every insurance company has the right to make different rules when it comes to accident reporting. But, for the most part, you should consider reporting a car accident if there is any damage or potential injuries.
While not every insurance company requires you to file a claim, they may still want you to report the accident to them. State Farm is a good example of this rule. Luckily, State Farm has a good instructional page on their site with step-by-step instructions to make the process as easy as possible.
Liberty Mutual also has a really good claims FAQ page that will help you determine what to report and what you need in order to file a claim.
Allstate says they prefer for you to contact your agent directly before filing a claim so that they can make sure everything is in order. They can also help determine whether or not a claim needs to be filed in the first place.
I spoke with my insurance agent about this very topic recently and was told that there are a lot of misconceptions about insurance reporting. He told me that they have run across quite a few minor car accidents that clients wanted to report after the fact, but had no police report. When that happens, they have to assume you are the at-fault party. This is where it can get expensive if your minor damage is really more major than you think.
On the other side of the coin, he told me that a lot of clients will report minor car accidents that they really didn’t need to. All that does is create more paperwork when these clients don’t utilize their car insurance the way it was meant to be used.
This is where having a good insurance agent comes into play. They can help you maximize your car insurance policy while also saving you the most amount of money. After all, that’s why they get paid the big bucks!
In which circumstances do you NOT need to report a minor car accident?
There are a few circumstances when you do not need to report a minor car accident. If you happen to live in one of the 12 no-fault states or Puerto Rico, then you may not want to report it. But, this is only the case if you are absolutely sure you don’t have any injuries. Plus, the damage is so minor that you are either not going to get it fixed or it’s well within your means to pay for repairs out of pocket.
I can tell you that I’ve been in two situations where I didn’t report the minor accident to my insurance company. In both instances, the damage was so minor that I didn’t feel it was the best use of my time to report it. In one case, I paid for the minor repairs myself and in the second case, the other driver gave me cash to fix the taillight.
This doesn’t mean it’s always the best, or right course of action though. Each minor car accident is unique, so make the best decision for you at the time.
Will reporting a minor car accident raise your insurance rates?
The biggest misconception about reporting a minor car accident is that it will raise your insurance rates. This is simply not the case in a lot of instances. In fact, each state has a different threshold amount that you have to go over in order to trigger a possible hike in rates. In my state, that is $1,800.
However, even if I reported a minor car accident that was my fault over this threshold, my rates still probably wouldn’t be affected. This is due to the fact that I don’t have any accidents on my record that are my fault and I have quite a few years of clean driving under my belt.
But, if somebody already has an accident or two on their insurance that is their fault, then it’s possible for their rates to go up. Usually, the previous accidents will need to be within the past three years in order for them to be taken into account.
If you’re not sure what the threshold is in your state, there are a couple of ways you can find this. Either take a look at the Department of Insurance website for your state, because in a lot of cases it is listed there. The other way is to contact your agent, as this should be something they know right off the top of their head.
How do major car accidents affect car insurance rates?
Major car accidents are a slightly different animal when it comes to how they affect your car insurance rates. How much your policy premium can go up after a major car accident will vary based on a few different factors:
- Amount of property damage.
- Previous accidents on your record.
- The nature of the previous accidents on your record.
Just because you get into a major car accident that you are deemed at-fault for doesn’t mean that your insurance will drop you. This is another widely spread misconception. Insurance companies don’t take dropping a client lightly. But, if you have multiple major car accidents or a DUI, you are a much bigger risk to them. So things of this nature might trigger a nonrenewal from the insurance company.
An example of a major car accident that did cause the insurance company to drop them
A good example of when an insurance company might drop you is a situation I was actually involved in. A few years ago, I was stopped on the freeway in morning traffic on my way to work. A man didn’t realize all the traffic was stopped and hit me at 60 mph, causing a five-car accident. My car looked like an accordion and I ended up in the hospital with a concussion (I’m lucky that’s all that happened to me!).
Apparently, the driver who hit me had a similar multi-car accident earlier the same year. Since this was his second major car accident with multiple cars in less than six months, his insurance carrier dropped him. And I completely understand why they would be triggered to do so. After all, my car was totaled and I had some pretty decent medical bills.
No matter what, minor car accidents are no fun to be involved in. But they don’t have to be as long and drawn out as major car accidents.
In most cases, it’s the wisest course of action to call the police to document the accident and file a report with your insurance company. After all, it’s better to be safe than sorry.