If you get into a car accident and you believe that the accident is probably going to wind up being your fault, here are some do’s and don’t’s. We’ll start with the don’t’s.
(For more basics on liability for a crash, check out our Proving Fault for Car Accidents section.)
The key "don’t" is don’t tell the other driver, anyone in the other car, the police, or anyone else that the accident was your fault. Even if you really believe that it was your fault, you don't have all the necessary information in the moments after an accident, and it's a hectic time. Make sure to keep your conversations with the other driver and the passengers in the other car neutral. That means:
It's probably best just to ask the other driver if anyone was hurt, exhange your contact and insurance information with him or her (and with anyone else who was involved in the accident) and then say that you should just all wait until the police arrive. Don’t get into an argument with the other driver. Make sure to stay polite and cordial. Don’t accuse the other driver of anything, and don’t get angry if the other driver accuses you. Just walk away and wait for the police to arrive. (More: Be Careful What You Say at the Scene of a Car Accident.)
An important "do" is, in most situations, you should call the police after a car accident. Many states have a law requiring the police to be informed if a car accident causes bodily injury or property damage that exceeds $500 or $1,000. Don’t take a chance. If you, the other driver, or any of the passengers in either car complains of injury, call the police. If you can see visible damage to either car that is more than a ding, call the police. If either car was moving at more than a minimal speed at the time of the collision, call the police to the scene. Depending on the circumstances of the accident, and where it takes place, law enforcement may or may not respond to the scene, but it's best to at least give them the opportunity to do so.
If you have a camera or a camera phone and are able to take pictures, take as many pictures of the accident scene and of the damage to both vehicles as you can before you leave the scene. If there are any skid marks on the road, take pictures of them as well. You should also take pictures of stop signs, speed limit signs in the area, and other traffic control devices. (More Tips on Taking Photos at the Car Accident Scene.)
Make sure to get the names of any passengers in the other car, as well as the driver. If there were any witnesses in other cars or on the sidewalk, try to get their names and contact information, if they will give it.
If the police come, they will ask you what happened. You will undoubtedly have some time to wait before the police arrive. Make sure to take that time to review in your own mind how you believe the accident happened. Then, when the police ask you what happened, you can tell them what you think happened accurately and honestly.
Make sure to call your automobile insurance company to report the accident as soon as possible, and certainly no later than the next day after the accident.
Every insurance policy has a requirement that the insured (you) cooperate with the insurance company. If the insured does not cooperate with the insurance company, the insurance company can deny insurance coverage for an accident. Don’t take a chance on this. Don’t wait. If you get into a car accident and think that you might be at fault for the accident, call your insurance company that day or the next day at the latest and tell them exactly what happened.
Sometimes your insurance company wants to take its own pictures of your car, sometimes not. Once you get your car fixed, then the insurance company can no longer take pictures of the damage. It’s a minor point, but you should let the insurer know that you’re getting your car fixed so that it can get someone out to your car to take pictures.
Many states require drivers to file an accident report, in addition to calling the police, if they get into a car accident that causes bodily injury or a certain amount of property damage. Some states require that the report be filed with the state Department of Motor Vehicles; other states require that the report be filed with the local police department. The report usually has to be filed within a short period of time, generally ten days or two weeks. If you cannot figure out whether your state’s law requires you to file an accident report, you should ask your insurance company or at your local police station. You can most likely get a copy of the report form at your local police station or online at your Department of Motor Vehicles website.
Unfortunately, if you are at fault for a car accident, your insurance premium will probably increase for at least several years. The laws differ from state to state with respect to how long an accident can stay on your record, but you should be prepared for it to stay on your record for up to seven years.