Short story time: At the beginning of May, I was hit while driving by another car that decided red lights don’t mean stop (what a bitch). Three years prior I hit a car that I’m pretty sure came the fuck out of nowhere (‘funny note’—I can’t remember a lot from that accident). And I have been in the car as a passenger during a couple negligible rear-ending incidents (one which happened days after my first big accident and caused me to have a panic attack).
So what do you do in the aftermath of a car accident?
FIRST—Check on YOU: You read it in airplane emergency brochures—help yourself before assisting your fellow passengers. The same thing goes for car accidents. Make sure that you’re okay before helping everyone else. Here’s what I do: check for major bleeding, wiggle toes, fingers, roll neck gently, feel body for debris. You can do this pretty damn quickly. But you’re no fucking use to anyone if you’re injured and bleeding and trying to help other passengers. Why? Because you’ll only hurt yourself further, and may injure the other person, as well.
Check on other passengers. Were you driving with other people in the car? Or are you another passenger being driven by someone else? Look around the vehicle and audibly ask if each person is okay. If anyone’s injured badly, take note, because you’ll need to describe this to the emergency operator.
Turn off the vehicle (if possible). Whenever your car is hit, especially if it’s hit near the engine or gas tank, turn the car off. The last thing you want is a fucking giant ball of fire on the side of the road. Also, turning off the car can make you feel like you’re doing something normal(ish), which might help keep your noggin calm.
Exit the car (if possible). Sometimes you can’t exit the car the normal way. You might have to crawl through a window, or crawl around the car to exit through a door that’s working. My first accident was a T-bone that resulted in my door being slammed in. The electric doors in the car were fucked up already, so my only way out was to have the responding officer rip the door off (the look on his face as he tried to open the other doors was fucking hilarious, though).
Do you need police/fire/ambulance? Then…
Call emergency services. The operator will ask you your location. Try to name off a nearby intersection, mile marker, or landmark—this can help first responders locate you more quickly. It pays to know where the fuck you are. Describe your car. Name the number of people and their injuries, if you can. Say how many cars were involved.
While you’re waiting, if you can, grab any personal belongings from your car (purse, backpack, etc.). In case your car is towed, you might lose access to these things. If your phone is working, take pictures of the scene. This can help later with insurance stuffs, or if it’s needed as court evidence. Or you can even use them to create a scrapbook memorial page mourning the loss of your first car. Also, call any important people who should know that you were in a bad accident: parents, spouse, lover, friends, boss, etc.
Is it a minor dent/scratch and no one’s hurt? Then…
Call the police anyway. Why? Because as good as some people can be, some will do anything to avoid taking fault for an accident. This can come back to bite you in the ass when you’re trying to get reimbursed by the other persons’ insurance company for any work your car needs. So why do I need a cop? Because they can be a third party witness who can assign a ticket to the faulted party, collect insurance information, and describe the details of your car.
If you really don’t want to call the cops…get the other person’s insurance. Take a picture of your car and their car. Shit, take a picture of their insurance card. Don’t let them get away by just giving you their first name and a phone number—you’ll never hear from them again. Be assertive about getting it, and if they’re hesitant or violent, CALL THE COPS.
Important things to note: Don’t forget to call your insurance company and let them know about the accident! Write down the number of the agent who you’ll be talking to. Get the cop’s name and badge number, the police report number, towing company, the names of everyone involved. Your insurance company will ask you to give your statement. Before telling them, write everything down so you know what to say and so you can make sure you didn’t forget to mention anything.
Try to stay as calm as possible, at least when you’re on the phone. It’s really hard for emergency responders to get information out of someone who’s crying.
Bring a bag or box with you to get the stuff out of your car, if it’s been towed. If you had stuff in boxes in your trunk, they may have been busted during the accident, so you’ll be happy you brought a bag.
Don’t text and drive! Seriously! If you kill someone because you decided texting was more important than paying attention to the road, I hate you and hope you rot (fuck you, fuck you, fuck you). Same thing with cell phone calls! The person on the other end of the line doesn’t know if they’re distracting you, and not having two hands on the wheel can lead to some gnarly accidents (especially in bad weather). Bluetooth headsets are super-cheap nowadays, and a lot of states (like Illinois!) are making hands-free laws (IE, you need to use a bluetooth device while driving or else it’s a pricy ticket).
Even if you end up not going to the hospital, see your doctor the next day. Let them know you were in a car accident. Sometimes your body takes a while to tell you that you have an injury. Also, sometimes what you think is nothing can lead to major neck/back/brain problems later, so this can save you in the long run.
Also, BIG TIP: If you’re the car who hit someone, never say “I’m sorry.” That is considered an admission of guilt and is ultimately what got me charged as being Car 1 (car at-fault) in my first accident. Even though both I and the other car were technically at fault, the responding officer chose me (poo).
Stay safe, pay attention to the road, and wear your seatbelts!
-The Sudden Adult
PS. It’s totally OKAY to cry and freak out a bunch after an accident. I can only manage to remain calm enough to call 911 and talk to the police, but when I call my parents I cry a bunch. Luckily my mom is fluent in The Sudden Adult’s Tear-Filled Rambling and can decipher that I want my dad there to talk ‘police’ with the police (plus he’s a big fat guy, so hugging him’s like hugging a giant mustachioed grizzly).