Car accidents are as stressful as they are unexpected.

Stay calm and follow this simple list of dos and don’ts at the scene of your accident . . .

DO . . .

Stop

If you have a choice, stop as close to the accident scene as possible without obstructing traffic.

If any other involved driver does not stop, try to get a license number, a description of the vehicle or, if possible, a photo of that car. This information can be given to the police and your insurance company and may lead to finding the hit-and-run driver.

Call The Police

Call “911″ and ask for a police officer. If anyone is injured, also request an ambulance.

If your accident is minor, there are no injuries and there are no obvious serious violations of the law such as drunk driving, the police may not come to the scene. Instead, they may instruct you to exchange information with all other drivers.

Help Anyone Injured

If you are physically able, within the limits of your ability, help anyone who is injured.

Unless there is a fire or some other reason that requires moving an injured person, do not move anyone because this could worsen broken bones or internal injuries.

Protect The Scene

Put on your vehicle’s warning flashers and, especially at night, put out warning triangles and flares. If you do not have any warning equipment, ask someone to alert traffic of the accident scene, being sure to protect themselves of course.

Move Your Vehicle If You Had A “Fender Bender” And Fault Is Clear

If the accident only caused minor damage and fault is clear – say, for example, you were rear-ended while stopped in traffic – you should move your vehicle out of the roadway.

However, if you can do so safely, before moving your car, make photos of the scene.

Identify All Drivers And Witnesses

If a police officer comes to the scene, she will get this information for you.

However, if the police do not come to the scene, get contact information from all involved drivers and witnesses.

Get this information from witnesses first because they are more likely to leave the scene early.

Exchange Information With Other Drivers

Exchange this information with all other drivers involved in the accident:

  1. Name
  2. Address
  3. Telephone Number (and email address, if possible)
  4. Name Of Insurance Company
  5. Insurance Policy Number
  6. Vehicle License Number (And State)

Verify the information by looking at the other driver’s license and insurance card. If there are differences between what the driver told you and what is on the documents, call the police to the scene.

Write Down Facts

As soon as you can, write down a description of where and when the accident happened as well as what happened. Include as many details as you can think of. You can expand this statement later, but don’t wait too long to add to your description because your memory will fade over time.

Write down anything that bears on the cause of the accident. For example, if you look in another vehicle and see signs of that vehicle’s driver was eating, talking on the phone or texting, etc., write that in your notes (and even make a photo of it if you can).

Make Photos

Using your phone’s camera, or a disposable camera that you keep in your car for emergencies like this, make photos. Take pictures of the positions of the cars before they are moved, take pictures showing the damage to all involved cars and take pictures of anything else that is relevant to determining how the accident happened such as defects in the road, obscured traffic signs, debris in the roadway (that existed before or was caused by the accident), etc. Take multiple pictures, from close and from farther back.

Also photograph any injuries that will show in a photo.

Get Necessary Medical Care

Speaking of injuries, if you have symptoms of an injury, make sure to tell that to the police and go to the hospital or your doctor right away to be checked out.

This is no time to be Mr. or Ms. Tough Guy. You may be injured more seriously than you think.

Write Down Admissions Or Apologies Make By Other Drivers

If another driver admits that he caused the accident, or apologizes, write down exactly what he said in your notes.

Identify The Police Officer And Find Out How To Get The Report

Make sure you get the officer’s name and contact information. Also ask how to get a copy of the accident report, if one is being written.

Have Your Passenger Or Someone Else Do Whatever You Cannot Do

If you are injured too seriously, or for any reason cannot follow these dos and don’ts, ask a passenger or anyone else who is able to do these things for you.

Immediately Start Thinking About Documenting Your Insurance Claim

Immediately adopt the mindset that you will have to document what happened to be able to make insurance claims to have your car repaired and to be compensated for your injuries.

Start thinking: Document! Document! Document!

DON’T . . .

Fail To Stop Or Leave The Scene Without Exchanging Information

Leaving the scene of an accident is a crime. It is also unlawful to leave the scene of an accident without exchanging information with all other drivers involved in the accident.

Move Any Injured Person Unless You Have To

Within the limits of your training and ability, help anyone who has been injured. However, unless their safety requires it, do not move injured persons. Moving them could exacerbate fractures or internal injuries.

Move Your Vehicle If You Had A Major Accident Or Fault Is Not Clear

If fault is not obvious, make sure the vehicles are not moved until the police arrive. You want the officer to see the resting positions of the vehicles so that she can determine the cause of the accident. And, of course, while you are waiting for the officer, make photos of the vehicles.

Admit Fault Or Apologize

Don’t admit fault or apologize at the scene. You can always apologize later, if a calm analysis of the accident makes that appropriate.

Talk About The Accident With Anyone But The Police

Do not even discuss how the accident happened with the other driver(s). There is a risk that something you say will be misinterpreted or misunderstood.

Of course, if the other driver talks about how the accident happened – and especially if they admit causing the accident – you should record the details in your notes.

In other words, at the accident scene, it is better to receive (information and admissions) than to give.

That is, until the police arrive. You should tell the officer what happened and report any admissions made by any of the other drivers.

Following this list of dos and don’ts at the scene of your accident will help you deal with the stress of the accident and lay the foundation for successful legal claims.