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Automobile accidents are stressful. Your car is probably damaged, you or the other driver may be hurt, and it’s likely that you’re trying to navigate this emotionally-charged event with traffic continuing to flow all around. On top of all that, you need to exchange information with all other parties involved and record important data for your insurance claim.

First thing to remember after an automobile accident: do NOT place blame. This goes for everyone involved, including yourself. If the accident was your fault, your instinct may be to apologize and take responsibility. But evidence shows that it’s better to remain quiet and let the investigation run its course. In many states, it’s the at-fault driver’s insurance company that pays. So ultimately, everything will work out. But being quick to admit fault will surely boost your insurance premiums, and it will be more difficult to gain compensation for your own damages.

After the initial shock has worn off, it’s important to call the police and report the accident. Then, meet with the other driver(s) and exchange information. This includes insurance provider and contact information, in case one party needs to reach the other in the near future. You’ll also need this information when filing your insurance claim.

Now you can begin recording your own observations while you wait for the police to arrive. Use your phone to capture pictures of the scene from different angles, taking care to include your car and any other cars involved. Record any facts that you can remember while the details of the accident are still fresh in your mind: for example, the date and time of the accident, the weather, the speed you were going, any witnesses to the event, etc. Be sure to record information on site as well, including vehicle make and model, driver’s name and age, location, and the name and badge number of the police officer who arrives on the scene.

After everything has been cleared and you’re safely home, it’s time to start thinking about filing an insurance claim. Simply call your insurance provider and state your intentions. A representative should guide you through the process, asking for any details that you recorded at the scene. Generally speaking, you should be prepared to provide the following information:

      Your insurance policy number

      The date, time, and location of the accident

      A description of the accident and any damage sustained

      Insurance and contact information of the other parties

      The responding police department and identifying information of any officers involved

The representative will instruct you in any further actions that must be taken.

In the end, the most important thing you can do after an automobile accident is to keep a level head. Don’t panic and don’t start pointing fingers. Record observations and evidence, gather information, and know what your next steps are.