Crash! Now what?

By Crawford Frazer

Car accidents happen in a flash. One second you're slowly pressing the accelerator as the light turns green, and a millisecond later someone tries to beat the red light and smashes into the front of your car. It's loud, rattling and enough to make you temporarily disoriented.

That's why crash preparation should start well before an accident occurs. Plan ahead, while your mind is clear.

Accident preparation kit
There are a number of bases to cover when you're involved in an accident, and it's best to feel confident that you're prepared. These are some handy -- and easy -- things to keep in a glove compartment crash kit, according by Senior Consumer Advice Editor Philip Reed:

  • A cell phone: You probably have one handy already, but make sure you can call the police -- especially in case of serious injury.
  • A pen and notepad: These are invaluable, as you'll need to exchange information with the other driver.
  • A camera: Take some photos to provide evidence of damage.
  • A card listing your allergies or other medical conditions: If you get seriously injured, make sure the paramedics know your medical background.

After the accident
Preparation is the best place to start, but there are still important decisions to make to keep yourself and other drivers safe immediately after an accident. The Insurance Information Institute identifies some post-crash tips:

  • Remain calm: Although it sounds like a cliché©d call from a traffic cop in a movie, this tip actually is worth paying close attention to. It's easy to lose your cool in an accident -- especially a serious one. Stay calm, and the steps that follow become that much easier.
  • Call the police: In addition to expediting the accident report process, it's imperative to let the police know whether anyone is injured. In many cases, someone's health may depend on immediate medical attention. You'll also need an official report to get the best results from the responsible party's auto insurance company.
  • Get your car to a safe place: For some drivers, it's tempting to stay in the location of an accident in order to prove fault. Don't bow to this temptation; you'll only risk further damage. Get off the road, or at least onto the shoulder.
  • Exchange information: We'll detail exactly what information shortly. But remember that you don't have to wait for an officer to exchange information with the other driver.
  • Take a photo (or several): Make sure you document any damage immediately.
  • Call your auto insurance company: The insurer will need to know, and you can make the process faster and smoother by informing the company right away.
  • Ask for a copy of the police report: You have a right to know what the officer has reported, and your insurance company will want to know as well.

Exchanging information
The Insurance Information Institute recommends exchanging the following with the other driver:

  • Names and addresses of everyone in the vehicles.
  • License plate numbers.
  • Driver's license numbers.
  • Makes and models of all cars.
  • Insurance IDs.
  • Names and phone numbers of any witnesses.
  • Police officer's name and badge number.
If it's easier to keep a list of all these things in your crash kit, you should. Just make sure you're prepared, and any future accident will be a lot less scary.

See how much you could save today on your car insurance. Get your free auto insurance quotes today!