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There were a staggering 6,394,000 car accidents in the United States during 2000. Over 2 million people (about one-third of all accidents) claimed injuries. 37,409 were fatally injured. Even more frightful is the fact that there are, on average, 115 deaths each day in the U.S. caused by motor vehicle crashes. That's one person every 13 minutes. And while the fatality rate per 100,000,000 vehicles fell to an all-time low of 1.5 in 2000, there were still nearly 6.4 million accidents reported on our highways. That's one every five seconds. And although the safety standards and statistics have improved, thanks to myriad vehicle safety features and improvements, accidents still rank number five in causes of fatalities in the U.S. The fact is, the more time that drivers spend behind the wheel and the more drivers on the streets, the more likely it is that you will be involved in a car accident. Thus, it is vital that people know what to do?and not to do?if involved in an auto accident.
First, do not leave. If you leave the scene of an accident?whether or not it was your fault?you may face criminal prosecution. Even if the accident is minor, you must exchange information (see below) with the other driver. And, while a lawyer may tell you not to move the vehicles until police arrive to assess the situation (to preserve the evidence), it's often best to move the vehicles to the side of the road. Or, if on the highway, it's a smart idea to pull off at the next exit and drive to a place where it's safe to get out, inspect the vehicles, and exchange information. This is especially true if the wrecked vehicles are obstructing the flow?try to move them so as not to impede traffic.
When to dial 911
If there appears to be over $500 in damage to any vehicle or if anyone feels any pain, call the local police or Highway Patrol immediately. It's also good to file a police report to clear up any potential discrepancies, just in case there's a lawsuit later on. Remember that, no matter what you think, do not take responsibility for the accident. Just state the facts. Regardless of what you think happened, the other driver may have been at least partially at fault.
Feel the Pain?
If you are seriously injured, do not move. Stay in your car and wait for help. Most people, even if they feel pain, often refuse medical attention at the scene of an accident. They may be in shock, may have to get to work, or maybe don't yet feel the pain. Unfortunately, if the case goes to trial (the majority of car accidents don't), this may be used against that person. So, if you are in pain or if you have a serious injury and an ambulance is offered, accept the service and go to the emergency room where your injuries can be properly assessed. If you feel pain a few days after the accident, it is vital you seek medical attention. A good chiropractor is often your best bet; a medical doctor may diagnose soft-tissue damage and write a prescription for ibuprofen for the pain. A good chiropractor, particularly one who specializes in injury and accidents, can work wonders at preventing long-term pain and suffering. You may have to see him or her three or four days a week for three or four weeks, but it's worth it (not to mention that it feels great!).
True story: I was in a 4-car pileup on the freeway on my way to work one morning. The next morning, carpooling coworkers were in a very similar accident in the exact same place. (There was actually a Highway Patrolman and a tow truck by the side of the highway as there is an accident there almost every morning. It's a congested highway where trucks and cars merge from five lanes to three). Long story short: I went to a chiropractor. They didn't. I have no residual pain. They do.
Just the Facts
If you have decided to not call the police, be sure to at least exchange information with the other driver (or drivers). It's a good idea to keep a few items in your glove compartment for this occasion: in addition to your insurance information, a small pad of paper and pen, and a disposable camera. This way, you can take pictures at the scene of the accident to document the exact nature of the damage as well as the area. Take pictures of the road, things like the traffic conditions at the time (especially if it's heavily congested and there are all kinds of merging roadways), making sure that identifiers like street signs are visible. Then take pictures of all of the vehicles, damaged or not (you may need proof that there was NO damage). It may help you to ask the people involved if you can take the pictures first, or maybe politely say something like, "I'd just like to document the damage for myself, just in case. If you'd like copies of the pictures, I'd be more than happy to send them to you."
When you exchange information, here's what you need to get (and give): name, address, telephone number, driver's license number, name of insurance company, and policy number. In addition, information about the vehicle like make, model, year, license plate number, and color may also be helpful. If there are any passengers, get their names, addresses, and phone numbers, and the same if there are any witnesses. Also, if the driver of the vehicle is not the owner, be sure to get the name, address, phone number, and insurance company name and policy number. When speaking with the police, do not feel obligated to take any responsibility for the accident. Just as they say in the movies, in case the accident goes to court, anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law.
It will also help you to write down a few notes like the time of day, weather conditions, road conditions, street lighting (or lack thereof), and the presence or length of skid marks. A diagram of the location, noting the street names and locations of the vehicles, any crosswalks, traffic lights, and stop signs may also come in handy. As will a few notes about how fast you were going at the time of impact and a description of what happened. You will be expected to give this information to your insurance company, and possibly to the insurance company of the other party.
Most importantly, try to remain calm so you don't forget anything important. As for the pain your new and improved insurance rates will cause, you're on your own there?sorry!
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