Car Accidents and Insurance: How to Prepare for the Worst
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Accidents are frightening experiences, regardless of how severe, and they bring on a lot of stress. Faced with such a moment, it can be easy to forget yourself after a collision and what you have to do. But there are steps that are important for you to take to ensure everyone is safe and you are following the law.
While a list of tasks sounds overwhelming, having a structure to follow after an accident can help you keep a cool head. Additionally, hopping on to the claim filing process right away will make the process easier for you in the long term. With that in mind, here is what you should do after an accident, for both yourself and your auto insurance policy.
What Should I Do Right After a Car Accident?
Your mind will rush a mile a minute after an accident. But the most important thing to do right after an accident is stop. That can be a hard move to make, especially if the incident was your fault. You may even want to convince yourself that the collision or damage is small enough to ignore. However, no matter how minimal the physical damage is, you need to pause and do what you can to take in information.
Assess the Scene for Injuries
First, check with any passengers or people involved. Ask them or see if they are hurt and require medical care. If you believe someone is injured, it may be best to avoid moving the cars. However, this depends on the flow of traffic. If the involved cars create a major problem on the road, and are still safely drivable, you can consider moving them. Still, your best option is to wait for the police before making any sudden decisions. They will access the situation and possibly block off the road.
Call the Police
It may be intimidating, but it's vital for you to contact authorities as soon as possible to report the accident. Not only is this move vital if your vehicles block the flow of traffic, but it ensures that help arrives quickly for anyone injured. Also, the police report may heavily factor into your insurance claim. Insurance investigators can use this information during the time they process it.
Keep in mind: states have laws about post-collision reporting. Every state requires a DMV report if the accident results in someone's death or injury. Examples of some other state-based reporting rules include:
If any vehicles are towed from the scene (Oregon)
When property damage matches or exceeds $500 at the fault of an uninsured motorist (Alabama)
If there is any crash at all (Nevada)
When a vehicle is rendered disabled (Pennsylvania)
Most states also have financial minimums for property damage to qualify for reporting and specific time windows to report any collision by.
Collect the Details of The Collision
If you can leave your vehicle, turn off the engine and collect information. Along with assessing the damage and possible injuries, pull together the details of the incident. This will help your issuer when it is time to file the insurance claim.
You may be disoriented after an auto accident, however, or it may come on slowly. Make it easier on yourself to revisit the accident later by recording information. Your phone is a great tool for this, and you can take pictures as evidence, such as any damage. You can also write down anything if you have the means.
What Information Should I Collect?
There are a few details that you should collect after an auto accident for your auto insurance provider. Here is the information you should prioritize gathering:
The other driver's information, i.e., name, contact information, and driver's auto policy number, driver's license number
Names and ages of any passengers involved in the accident
Color, year, make, and model of the involved vehicles
Location of the accident (as precise as you can)
Date and time of the accident
Speed of both cars
Witnesses (collect phone numbers)
Police arrival time, along with the police officer badge number
You can take the information however works for you in the moment. For example, some may feel more comfortable taking notes on their phone, while others may keep a pad of paper in their car to jot down auto policy information and other details. Regardless, take pictures where you can so you don't have to rely on memory or interpret anything when you go to file a claim.
Once again, accidents are chaotic. Your emotions may run high. If you feel that you are a person who panics in intense situations, you may want to keep a "What-to-Do" list in case of an accident. It can be on your phone or stored somewhere in your vehicle. Then you can simply run down the items on the list without having to worry.
Should I Call My Insurance Company After A Car Accident?
It may depend on the circumstances. If the other driver is at-fault and accepts responsibility for the accident, then you probably don't need to involve your own insurer. However, if you are at-fault, even partially, you should call your insurance provider as soon as possible.
One thing you may have to consider is the state you live in. Some states are "no-fault" states, meaning both drivers have to contact their respective insurers after an accident. Under this rule, you receive compensation up to a certain limit for things like damages and injuries from your own insurance company. Likewise, the other involved drivers receive financial coverage from their own providers, even if you're at-fault.
There are currently 12 no-fault states:
- New Jersey
- New York
- North Dakota
The District of Columbia and Puerto Rico also function under no-fault regulations. In addition, Kentucky, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania allow you to opt out of the no-fault system. Your best bet is to research the rules of your state ahead of time when it comes to auto insurance.
What if The Other Driver Doesn't Have Insurance?
In a perfect world, every driver has the exact type of insurance they need to protect themselves and other motorists. However, that is not the reality for many U.S. drivers. According to a 2021 study by the Insurance Research Council (IRC), approximately 1 in 8 drivers, or 12.6% of motorists, were uninsured during 2019.
Despite this, almost every state in the U.S. requires drivers to have a minimum amount of insurance. Only two states don't technically require car insurance: New Hampshire and Virginia. While insurance isn't mandatory in these locations, motorists still need to prove some level of financial responsibility (or pay a fee in Virginia's case).
So, driving without insurance is not only illegal, most of the time, but also puts the motorist in an incredibly vulnerable financial position if they do cause an accident. Consider it: without insurance, all the bills and possible legal fees are on you. You have to pay them out of pocket. You could also potentially lose your license and registration, face jail time, or future chances of affordable car insurance.
Uninsured or Underinsured Motorist Coverage
If you want to avoid financial troubles following a collision with an uninsured driver, you may want to take preventative measures. Purchasing uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage provides a safety net if the at-fault driver lacks the right amount of insurance or pulls a hit-and-run. The IRC study also collected information on uninsured drivers by state. Mississippi held the highest with 29.4% of drivers, and New Jersey at the lowest with 3.1%. Therefore, it may be worth investigating how many are in your state to decide whether coverage is right for you.
You can also press charges. However, this may hurt you financially in the long run since legal fees are often expensive.
How Do I File a Claim?
While collisions are confusing and overwhelming, insurance companies typically make it easy to file a claim following a motor accident. However, knowing the steps ahead of time will make the process all the easier for you.
Call Your Auto Issuer
There is only really one thing you have to do on your when it comes time to file a claim: simply call your insurance company. Do this at the scene of the accident if possible. After that, your insurer takes over most of the heavy lifting in the situation. They'll walk you through the necessary steps and ask you questions about the accident. Provide them will all the details about the accident that you can when they ask. Keep in mind the list of details you collected at the scene of the car accident – this is what you provide to your insurance company.
Find An Auto Repair Shop
Your agent may also direct you to an approved repair shop if your car sustained damage. Certain approved shops allow your insurance company to reimburse you for a specified amount. You can compare quotes at different shops, but it's best to inform your insurance company where you intend to go.
Review Details of the Auto Claim
Some insurance companies have mobile apps that make the whole process smoother. Check whether your insurer has options for your claim filing. This option can make it easier for you to file a claim within the required amount of time. You can usually use a user id and policy number to access your insurance policy information on the app.
Remember to review your state's statute of limitations beforehand. Putting it off makes it harder for you to receive the financial compensation you need.
How Do I Access Claim Information After a Car Accident?
Your auto insurance company will assign an agent, or claims adjuster, to investigate your case. For some time after you file the claim, they will investigate the facts of the car accident. They may involve reviewing police reports, contacting medical providers for any associated expenses, or scheduling a follow-up interview with you.
If you would like to know the progress of your case during that time, you can call your insurance provider. When you filed the claim, your agent likely provided you with a claim number and the contact information of the appropriate representative. You can use that information to check the status of your claim.
Alternatively, there may be an online method for you to use. Each provider works differently, so discuss your options in the case of an accident with your agent.
Will My Car Insurance Rate Go Up After an Accident?
Being at-fault for a collision or car accident will likely affect your car insurance rate. This usually takes the form of an additional fee called a surcharge. Surcharges are a temporary increase to your monthly premium as a direct result of your actions. According to Forbes Advisor's analysis, the average rate increase after an accident tacks on to a clean record is 41%. Events that cause this price spike include:
- Traffic violations
- At-fault accidents
- DUI/DWI convictions
- Late payments
There are also non-chargeable collisions, like:
- A car hits your vehicle during a hit-and-run
- Your car was damaged while legally parked
- Another vehicle rear-ends your car at no fault of your own
But in the case of a chargeable accident, your car insurance company adds a penalty fee on to your rate at renewal time. So, you won't see the increase in the middle of your policy term.
The circumstances of the accident and the associated costs make an impact on your rates. You might get into a small fender bender in a parking lot, for example. That usually won't have the same financial consequence as causing a major accident. But it's also important to know the standards for your particular insurance company and state. Some states don't allow surcharges, like California, whereas others may put limitations on the surcharge.
Has Your Car Insurance Rate Gone Up After an Accident?
You'll likely get points on your license if you caused an accident, which may raise your auto insurance premiums. SmartFinancial uses geolocation data to find the most affordable auto policy in your area. You can compare car insurance rates for free by entering your zip code below or by calling this phone number: 855.214.2291.