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Posted: 4:55 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 26, 2010

Car Accident Guide

How to Handle Traffic Accidents

1. Keep a Kit 
Carry a cell phone; a pen and paper for taking notes; a disposable camera to take photos of the vehicles at the scene; and a card with information about medical allergies or conditions that may require special attention if there are serious injuries.  
     
2. Keep Safety First 
Move cars to the side of the road and out of the way of oncoming traffic if there are no serious injuries. If a car cannot be moved, drivers and passengers should remain in the cars with seatbelts fastened for everyone's safety until help arrives. Make sure to turn on hazard lights and set out cones, flares or warning triangles if possible. 
     
3. Call the Authorities 
Even if it's a minor accident, you want the police there and you want a report on file.   
     
4. Exchange Information  
Get the other driver's name, address, phone number, insurance company, policy number, driver license number and license plate number. If the driver's name is different from the name of the insured, establish what the relationship is and take down the name and address for each individual. Also make a written description of each car, including year, make, model and color -- and the exact location of the collision and how it happened. Finally, be polite but don't tell the other drivers or the police that the accident was your fault, even if you think it was. 
     
5. Photograph and Document the Accident 
Document damage to all vehicles. Keep in mind that you want your photos to show the overall context of the accident so that you can make your case to a claims adjuster. If there were witnesses, try to get their contact information; they may be able to help you if the other drivers dispute your version of what happened. 
     
6. File an Accident Report  
If law enforcement officers don't respond because there are no injuries, file a state vehicle accident report anyway. These are available at police stations and often on your state's Department of Motor Vehicles website. A police report often helps insurance companies speed up the claims process. 
     
7. Know What Your Insurance Covers 
The whole insurance process will be easier following your accident if you know the details of your coverage. For example, don't wait until after an accident to find out that your policy doesn't automatically cover costs for towing or a replacement rental car.
 
Please print out this page and keep it in your glove compartment!