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March 2013

What to do in case of an accident

Accidents can happen, even to the best of drivers. And if one does happen,
it's best to be prepared.

What to do in case of an accident

First tip: it makes the entire process easier if you know your coverage. Check the specifics of your policy: don't wait until after an accident to find out that your policy doesn’t cover towing expenses or that for a few dollars a month you could have a rental car added to your policy. Print the information below to store in your glove compartment, along with a notepad, pen/pencil and a disposable camera (if your cell phone does not have one). This way, if you are involved in a traffic accident, you can remain calm and follow these steps.

First, make sure everyone is safe. If you are involved in a minor accident without serious injuries, move the cars to the side of the road, away from oncoming traffic when it is safe to do so. Leaving the cars in the middle of a road or intersection could result in additional accidents or injuries. If a car cannot be moved, drivers and passengers should remain in the car with seatbelts fastened until help arrives. Make sure to turn on hazard lights and if it's possible set up flares or reflectors. If you or another person needs medical attention, call for an ambulance.

Exchange information and contact police. After the accident, if you can exit your car safely, you'll want to exchange the following information (with all parties involved): name, address, phone number, insurance company, policy number, driver license number and license plate number for the driver and the owner of each vehicle. If the driver's name is different from the name of the insured, find out the relationship and take down the name and address for the insured. Also include a description of each car involved - including year, make, model and color - the exact location of the accident and how it occurred.

Photograph and Document the Accident. Take pictures of damage to all vehicles. When taking photos, remember to show the overall context of how the accident occurred. If there were witnesses, try to get their contact information, as they may be able to help in case the other driver disputes what happened.

File An Accident Report. Although law enforcement officers in some locations may not respond to accidents unless there are injuries, drivers should still file a state vehicle accident report, which is available at police stations and on the Department of Motor Vehicles Web site as a downloadable file.

Do not tell anyone the accident was your fault, even if you think it may have been, as you may later discover the other driver was equally or more at fault. This is especially important to new or younger drivers, who may be coerced or made to believe they were at fault, when they may not have been. You should avoid any conversation regarding who was at fault and do not discuss the accident with anyone but the police and your insurance company. Again, be polite, but do not tell other driver(s) or police the accident was your fault, as statements made following an accident may come back to be used against you, even if they aren't correct. Tell the police your account of the accident, simply providing the facts.

Do not accept an on the spot financial settlement and do not agree to avoid reporting the accident to your insurance company. Here's why you don't want to exclude 21st Century Insurance from the process: the other driver, for example, may initially agree to pay for damage to your car after the accident, but once the repair bills come in, may change their mind. At this point, it will be much more difficult to gather evidence if you file a claim. In an even worse scenario, the driver may report the accident to their insurance company, claiming injuries that may not have been apparent when the accident occurred. This could result in them receiving a financial settlement, or you could be end up being sued by the other driver. This is why it is important to let us know what has occurred, so we have your version of what happened.

Your Best Bet

If you are involved in an accident, call 21st Century as soon as possible and provide the information gathered, as it will be helpful in an investigation. If you are pressured to accept a settlement or note false information due to an accident, whether at the time of the accident or afterwards, report that to the responding police officer and 21st Century. Finally, make sure to seek medical assistance if you feel you may be injured, as neck and/or back injuries may not show up until hours or days after the wreck. By following the above process, you can help reduce much of the uncertainty that occurs for all parties involved.

Sources: nhtsa.gov; dmv.org; Edmunds.com;

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