What to do if you’ve been in a crash

So you’ve been involved in an automobile crash. 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? Yes. Most state laws require you to stop for any collision with a moving vehicle, a parked vehicle, a pedestrian, or someone’s property. If you drive away, even if the collision isn’t your fault, 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.
  • Safety first! Prevent additional injuries. Individuals involved in minor collisions, with minor or no injuries, should consider moving their vehicles to the side of the road so other traffic does not collide with them. 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 crash 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.
  • Exchange information.
    • From you: Give each driver involved in the crash your name, driver’s license number, home address, phone number(s), and insurance company and policy number information.
    • From the other driver(s): Get the same information and also record the color, make, model, year, and license plate number for each car involved. Get the names and phone numbers of any passengers.

The information you should get at the scene of the crash

Gather as much information as safely possible. Sketch out the crash 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 crash location and the cars involved if you have a camera (or use your cell phone 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 respond honestly to questions and be specific: “I was traveling at 35 miles per hour,” and so on, just the facts. Don’t complicate things for yourself by saying, “It’s my fault to anyone at the crash scene, including the officer taking the report. (It may turn out the other driver was more at fault.) 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 crash to your insurance company immediately so they can start the claims process and get your vehicle repaired or replaced. Consider calling from the scene of the crash to facilitate this. Additionally, when you get home, 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 conditions, and road conditions. This account will be very useful when filing an insurance report, or later if you are involved in a court case because of the crash.
  • 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.
Orange Triangle Hazard
Other recommendations
  • Don’t discuss the financial limits of your auto insurance policy.
  • Don’t discuss who is responsible for the crash 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 crash 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 crash scene. If you don’t already have a smartphone with a camera, add a disposable camera to photograph the crash 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 a crash. Additionally, make a list of personal emergency contact numbers and keep it in your glove box.

If your vehicle is going to be towed from the crash scene, take the time to remove your personal items, including your home and office keys (leave the car keys), your garage door opener, other valuables, and important personal items. Remember to find out where your vehicle is being taken.

Car with dent
Beware of fraudulent collisions
Up to 10 percent of crashes 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
  • Two vehicles driving side by side that appear to be communicating with each other (planning a crash)
  • Drivers who have staged a collision may appear angry or threatening in order to intimidate you. Always drive defensively and avoid tailgating. If you believe you've been in a staged collision, contact police immediately.

AAA Accident Assist

AAA members with AAA insurance receive the added benefit of 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 that will quickly and safely provide transport to a repair shop in AAA’s Immediate Repair Program or a shop of your choice. AAA will contact friends or family members on our member's behalf, can immediately arrange for rental vehicle assistance1, and even complete the claim notice on the phone or at a time of the member's choosing.

If a member elects to have their vehicle repaired at a AAA Immediate Repair Program shop, AAA Accident Assist also saves time by scheduling a repair without having to wait for an adjuster. All repairs carry a lifetime warranty on workmanship2 for the repair.

1Accident Assist is for insured members only through the Inter-Insurance Exchange or Auto Club Family Insurance Company. Repairs, rentals, and other benefits are subject to policy coverage and limits.

2Warranty excludes parts and materials and is non-transferable. Other restrictions apply.