What to do after a car accident?

Every time you buckle your seat belt behind the wheel, you have a destination in mind. Being safe on the road can help you reach that destination — no matter the distance. Though safe driving reduces your risk for a car accident, it cannot eliminate it. Unforeseen variables like the weather, vehicle malfunctions, reckless drivers and more can cause an accident when you least expect it. 

Recent data from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics cites an average of 208 crashes per 100 million vehicle-miles nationwide. However, within Pennsylvania, recent data shows a downward trend in the number of crash-related fatalities. In fact, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (DOT) reported the second-lowest fatality rate per 100 million vehicle-miles in 2018.

The actions you take following an accident are important. If you've been in a car crash, you know the aftermath can leave your head reeling. Amid the emotions and uncertainty, there are a few simple steps you can take to recover and proceed successfully.

Steps to take after a car accident

Four Important Steps to Take After a Car Accident

If you've been fortunate enough to avoid a car accident so far, you may not know what to expect in the moments after the event. After you've recovered, the most important things to do include assessing the situation and gathering as much information as possible. To prepare, look over this list of what to do following a car accident:

1. Remain at the Scene

Pennsylvania state law requires drivers to remain at the scene of a road accident until relevant information has been exchanged. Section 3743 of Title 75 states drivers in a crash that causes damage to a vehicle or other property must stop nearby and provide information to one another. You should complete this exchange in a place that does not obstruct traffic, or you may be fined. Failure to stay at the accident scene is considered a third-degree misdemeanor and is punishable by a fine up to $2,500* or a year in prison.

If you hit an unattended vehicle in a parking lot, you should not immediately leave the scene, either. Do your best to locate the owner to explain the situation. If you can't find the owner, leave a note on the vehicle with your name, address and phone number.

2. Tend to Injuries

If you or the other driver have severe or concerning injuries, call 911 immediately. Most insurance policies will cover the cost of ambulance transportation when it is "medically necessary." This includes situations when you need medical attention right away or when you need medical supervision on the way to the hospital. In no-fault states like Pennsylvania, personal injury protection insurance will likely cover ambulance expenses.

Minor injuries are easy to dismiss after a highway accident. However, minor pains could turn into more serious issues over time. Immediately following a crash, your body's stress and pain response pumps endorphins and adrenaline into your bloodstream. These hormones have a morphine-like effect, which may mask the true extent of an injury until you calm down. 

Your insurance likely won't cover an ambulance ride if you are well enough to drive yourself to a care facility. It is still wise to visit your primary care physician for an examination in this situation.

3. Assess the Scene

Once you're certain there are no pressing medical needs, take some time to survey the scene. Note the following elements, if possible:

  • The amount of damage to each car
  • The location of the damage on each car
  • Whether or not each car will start
  • Additional property damage involved
  • Items missing from the inside of your vehicle, like your wallet, phone or purse
  • Damage to items you were transporting

4. Collect as Much Information as Possible

Gathering information at the scene of the accident can help make the insurance claim process as smooth as possible. If the other driver attempts to deny or negate a fact about the accident, thorough notes and photos are especially helpful. Do your best to document the accident scene, vehicle damage and injuries.

What to do after a car accident injury

What to Do After a Car Accident Injury

First and foremost, seek the medical attention you need for an injury. Whether you call 911 or visit your primary care doctor, it is important to have a professional examine your injuries. If your injuries were not severe right after the accident, but they progress over time, you may want to file a personal injury lawsuit. To do so, you'll need documentation that you sought medical care after the accident.

In addition to seeing a doctor, you should file an accident report with the police and a claim with your insurance. Your insurance can cover the costs of medical bills, hospital stays, medications and other items related to your injury if you file a report.

What you should report after a car accident

Car Accident Information Checklist: What You Should Report

The information you should report will depend on the extent of your accident. Pennsylvania law requires drivers to gather the following information for any accident that results in injury, death, a damaged vehicle or damaged property:

  • Driver's name
  • Driver's address
  • Driver's vehicle registration number
  • Driver's license information, if requested
  • Driver's license plate number

In addition to legally required information, there are other important details to collect. If a police officer is filing an accident report, they will ask for most of this information. If the police officer does not respond to the accident and a driver's accident report is required, you will want to ask for the following driver information:

  • Phone number
  • Full name
  • Date of birth
  • License number
  • Insurance company 
  • Year, make and model of car

Accident information you also may need includes:

  • Names and phone numbers for any witnesses
  • Reporting police officers' names and badge numbers
  • Police report number, so you can request a crash report
  • Date of accident, including the month, day, year and day of the week
  • Time of the accident
  • County, borough and township where the accident took place
  • Street name or intersection where the accident happened
  • Mile marker or landmark near the accident site
  • Weather conditions
  • Road conditions
  • Photos of the aftermath from multiple angles
  • An account of what happened
  • Who was wearing or not wearing seat belts
  • Extra passengers involved
  • An account of any injuries you feel

While you're collecting data, keep in mind the things you do not need to report. At the scene, do not admit fault to the crash, even if you are at fault. These statements can be used to deny compensation. You also do not have the full scope of the accident immediately following the event. It's best to wait and let the insurance company and police conduct their investigations.

You also should not need a photo of the other driver's license. If a driver asks to take a photo of your license, be very careful. To protect yourself from identity theft, tell the other driver you can provide the necessary license information numbers for them to record.

Auto insurance claim process after car accident

Auto Insurance Claim Process

Filing auto insurance claims after an accident can help you recover funds for vehicle damage, injuries and more. According to the Pennsylvania DOT, you should contact your insurance company after an accident using the number on your proof-of-insurance card as soon as possible. Some insurers also have mobile apps that allow you to start a claim at the scene of the accident. Make sure you understand your policy and follow the claim procedures it specifies.

The progression you can expect from your auto insurance after a car accident will be similar to the following:

  1. Filing a claim: When you call the number on your proof-of-insurance card, you will connect with an agent who will walk you through the claim process. Your agent can tell you the information you'll need to provide and the forms you'll need to fill out to begin the claim process.
  2. Working with an adjuster: Once you've filed a claim, your insurance company will assign a claims adjuster to investigate the case. Be sure to take notes and keep track of the dates you talk to your adjuster, so you have documentation of the process. 
  3. Hearing back from the company: If you file a claim with the other driver's insurance company, the company has 10 days to acknowledge they have received your claim. If you file a claim with your insurance company, they have 15 days after receiving properly executed proof of loss to inform you that they have accepted or denied your claim. If your insurance needs more time to investigate after 15 days, they are required to provide a written explanation detailing why they need an extension.
  4. Navigating a delayed claim: Insurance companies are required to complete investigations within 30 days following the acknowledgment they have received your claim. If they are unable to do so, they are required to provide an explanation for their delay every 45 days after the 30-day mark. Each explanation should give an up-to-date estimate of when you can expect to hear back about your claim. 
  5. Receiving a claim check: When your claim is accepted, you may receive a claim check to cover the costs of towing, temporary vehicles, vehicle damage or medical expenses. If you fully own your vehicle, that money is yours to apply toward the accident. If you have a lease or loan on your vehicle, you may need to work with the loan company to determine how to proceed with the check.

Your insurance policy will specify a length of time within which you can file an auto insurance claim. Though it's advisable to file a claim as soon as possible after an accident, life happens. If you're injured or busy, it's important to know the time window you have to contact your insurance.

How to prepare for auto accidents

Preparing for Auto Accidents

If you're in an accident, there are a few crucial items you may need right after the event. Taking a moment to stock these items in your car could serve you well as you recover and gather information:

  • First aid kit: If you or the other driver have minor injuries, a first aid kit can help you address them before you exchange information. You can either purchase a small first aid kit or follow the American Red Cross recommendations for a DIY kit. Keep in mind how many people typically travel in your vehicle when selecting a kit. You'll want enough supplies to tend to multiple people if the need arises.
  • Notepad and pencil: There's quite a bit of information you'll want to record after an accident. Though it's probably most convenient to take notes and photos on your phone, it could be damaged in a crash. Keep a small notepad and pencil in your glove box as a backup in case you're left without a functional phone.
  • Pennsylvania crash report: When police officers respond to a reportable accident, they fill out and submit a crash report. In rare cases when police cannot respond to a reportable accident, you are responsible for submitting a crash report to the Pennsylvania DOT within five days. The driver's accident report form is in-depth. Having a copy in your vehicle allows you to collect vital information while the event is fresh and you are with the other driver.
  • License and proof-of-insurance card: You should have your license and proof-of-insurance card with you each time you drive. These cards have crucial information for you and the other driver after an accident. Make sure you place your proof-of-insurance card in your vehicle's glove box and bring your license with you while driving.

What happens if a car accident isn't your fault

What Happens When You Have a Car Accident, and It's Your Fault?

Pennsylvania is a "no-fault" state, which means there are unique laws surrounding car accidents and auto insurance claims. In general, drivers file claims with their own insurance companies regardless of whether or not the accident was their fault. 

There are a few nuances in Pennsylvania's no-fault laws that give exceptions to the general rule:

Limited Tort vs. Full Tort 

Unlike other no-fault states, Pennsylvania allows drivers to choose between limited tort and full tort coverage — where "tort" refers to injuries. Limited tort insurance is less expensive, but it reduces your rights to claim compensation for injuries and other losses from a car accident. Limited tort covers medical expenses linked to an accident, but it wouldn't allow you to recover compensation for pain and suffering or non-monetary losses. 

Full tort insurance is more expensive, but it gives you unlimited rights to compensation for monetary and non-monetary losses. A full tort policy would allow you to file a personal injury lawsuit after a car accident if you had a viable case, whereas a limited tort policy would not allow you to do so.

Vehicle Damages

Pennsylvania's no-fault system applies to insurance claims for car accident injuries — not vehicle damage claims. If you or the other driver have vehicle damage following a crash, you can make claims with the at-fault individual's insurance company. These claims are unlimited regardless of whether you have limited tort or full tort insurance coverage.

Car hit from behind

Are You Always at Fault If You Hit a Car From Behind?

In most rear-end accidents, the person who hits the car from behind is at fault. Rear-end crashes tend to happen when a driver foregoes driving best practices like leaving enough room between their car and the car in front of them. Drivers will likely be considered at fault if they do one of the following:

  • Fail to stop soon enough in the flow of traffic
  • Fail to pay attention to the road and potential hazards
  • Drive over the speed limit
  • Fail to control the vehicle properly
  • Fail to yield the right of way
  • Fail to use a turn signal properly
  • Follow another car at an unsafe distance

The main exception to this rule is if the driver in front of you is negligent and causes the crash. This may include actions like:

  • Reversing suddenly into your vehicle
  • Making a sudden turn without a turn signal
  • Driving with broken brake lights
  • Failing to pull over and turn on hazard lights for a flat tire.

If you are at fault in a rear-end accident, don't panic. The other driver will simply file a claim for vehicle damages with your insurance company. If you or the other driver have any injuries from the collision, you can file a claim with your own insurance based on no-fault laws.

Should I Report a Minor Car Accident?

Fender bender collisions and other minor accidents without injuries are not as severe as major accidents. Even so, there are two entities to which you should consider reporting: the police and your insurance company.

Reporting a minor car accident to the police

Reporting a Minor Car Accident to the Police

In Pennsylvania, car accidents are classified as reportable or non-reportable. A reportable crash is any collision involving death or injury to any driver or vehicle damage that requires towing. Police officers are required to respond to these calls and submit a crash report.

A non-reportable accident is any crash that involves the following:

  • No injuries or death to either driver
  • No towing required due to damage
  • A collision on private property
  • A driver acting deliberately to cause the accident
  • An accident due to a cataclysm, like a natural disaster or strong storm

Police officers are not required to respond to a non-reportable accident or file a crash report. If they are available, many officers will respond as a courtesy to the drivers involved.

Because this non-reportable category applies to many minor accidents and fender benders, deciding what to do can feel tricky. If neither driver is injured and neither car requires towing, you are not legally obligated to report the accident to the police. If you feel shaken up or need guidance on what to do next, police officers can help you calm down and proceed safely.

Reporting a Minor Car Accident to Your Insurance

Though you may not need to report your minor accident to the police, reporting to your insurance company is necessary. Many people are afraid their rates will increase if they report a minor accident, so they choose to handle the issues themselves. Some people try to work out the details with the other driver without involving their insurance companies. 

Many insurance policies require you to report accidents, no matter the size. In general, if your accident involves another person, you should always report it to insurance. Even if you're unsure of what to do in a fender bender with no damage, you should report it to your insurance. Your vehicle may appear undamaged following the accident, but the crash could have caused expensive internal damage. If you don't report the crash to your insurer, you will be left to cover those costs out of pocket.

What Should I Do If I Don't Have Insurance?

It is illegal in almost every state to drive without auto insurance. If you're in a car accident with no insurance, you could lose your license or pay expensive penalties. In Pennsylvania, there are three auto insurance requirements to operate a vehicle:

  • $5,000* of medical benefits: This covers medical bills for you and the other driver under the no-fault laws.
  • $15,000/$30,000* of bodily injury liability: This covers the costs for rehabilitation and medical expenses if you injure the other driver. The $15,000 covers injuries for one person, and the $30,000 is the total amount available for one accident.
  • $5,000* of property damage liability: This covers expenses from damaging someone's property in a car accident.

If you cannot afford the state minimum insurance, there are several steps you can take to reduce your premiums:

  • Compare insurance rates for different companies and switch if necessary.
  • Consider raising your deductible if you can pay more out of pocket.
  • Ask about any discounts your insurance may offer.
  • Ask about Pennsylvania's Assigned Risk Plan if your driving record prevents you from getting insurance.

AAA has been offering reliable car insurance for the past 100 years, and our auto insurance benefits over 17 million members today. If you're looking for an insurance company with unparalleled customer service and trustworthy coverage, get a quote for your vehicle.

Maintain Peace of Mind With AAA 

Navigating the steps you need to take after an accident can feel overwhelming. Remember, your safety comes first. Be sure you feel safe and well after an accident before exchanging information with the other driver. It's also important to file the necessary police and insurance reports as well as prepare yourself and your vehicle for an accident. The small steps you take today can be extremely helpful if you encounter an accident in the future.

At AAA, we understand you want to feel secure in your coverage and safety. Our legendary roadside service can help you with towing following an accident or any other car troubles you may encounter. With 24-hour roadside service, a caring expert is just one call away. 

AAA Insurance Rewards Plans cover you and your family while you travel, in case of an accident or in case of an injury. These plans have guaranteed acceptance without health questions or exams and provide the extra security you seek.

To learn more about how AAA can give you peace of mind, check out our membership options today!

*The numbers stated in this post are current as of the time of publication.

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