Even if you are an excellent driver -- as Dustin Hoffman's savant character claimed in the movie "Rainman" -- that cannot protect you from all the other inattentive drivers on the road and likely will be in a car accident at some point.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, there are an average of 10.6 million crashes each year in the U.S. resulting in death, injury or property damage. That does not include the countless fender benders that go unreported each year.
If you are lucky, your next accident will fall in latter category, but it is bound to happen at some time. Being prepared will go a long way toward helping you collect from your or the other driver's insurance company.
So before you climb behind the wheel again, check out these five tips on what to after you've been in an accident.
No. 5: Get out of harm's way
After an accident, the first step, obviously, is to make sure you and any passengers have not been hurt. If so, move safely to the side of the road, unless it is safe to leave the cars where they are at the scene of the accident.
Try to mark vehicle locations or, if you have your cell phone or a camera handy, snap a few quick photos before moving your car.
"Taking photos is a good thing to do because it could come in very handy when you speak to your claims adjuster," said Carolyn Gorman, vice president of the Insurance Information Institute.
Although laws vary from state to state, calling the police should likely be your next step.
"If it is just a simple accident, what you need to do is just exchange insurance information," Gorman said. "If someone was injured or it was a serious accident, then of course you do need to call the police."
No. 4: Exchange insurance information
While you are waiting for the police to arrive is a good time to exchange insurance information with the other driver.
"The more information you get and the better that your records are, the more smoothly your claim will be processed with the insurance company. It would be a good idea to get the license number of the other car as well," said Gorman.
If the other driver says that they do not have insurance, don't panic. Your insurance company will likely cover the cost.
"Almost everyone has uninsured motorist coverage," said Gorman. "It is an optional coverage. However, in order to not get that coverage you have to write your insurance company a letter saying, 'I do not want that coverage, or you have to take an action in order to not have uninsured motorist coverage. And that's the coverage that you'll need in the event that the other person does not have insurance."
No. 3: Admit nothing
You should be careful to never admit fault if you've been in an accident.
This is not an encouragement to lie; it's that fault is something that will be determined by an insurance company, so leave it up to the experts. Admitting fault can put you in a difficult position on your claim or if the case goes to court.
"(Fault) is something to be sorted out later, and don't talk about how much insurance you have," said Gorman.
"When I had a fender bender a few years ago, the first thing I did was jump out of my car and tell him how sorry I was. But it's probably not a good idea to do that. It is a good idea to be calm, collect information, don't discuss who's at fault and don't discuss how much insurance you have."
No. 2: Beware of not filing a claim
Imagine you are in an accident and the other driver is at fault. He seems like a really nice person. With a kind smile and hint of the hardship to come, he asks if you would not file a claim so he can pay for the damages out of own pocket to keep his insurance rates from going up.
"You should be very careful when you do a thing like that, because you don't have anybody backing you up," said Gorman. "So you say to the guy, 'Well, here's the cost to repair my car, it's $2,000.' He can turn around and say, 'Well, I want you to take it somewhere else.' This can be the most long and drawn-out and painful process before your car is repaired."
Or worse, the person could be driving a stolen car or give you fake contact information, and it will be the last you ever see of them.
"Be aware that if you choose not to submit to your insurance company you may regret it later," said Gorman.
No. 1: Ask questions of your agent
Once the accident is over and you are home, it is important to keep in contact with your insurance agent to make sure that all the Ts are crossed.
"There's certain things you should ask your insurance company, like if there is a time limit for filing clams and submitting bills and resolving claim disputes," said Gorman. "It may be that you have to resolve it in one year. You can't come back in two years and say, 'There is more damage to my car.'"
"You should also ask them if you need to get repair estimates from more than one body shop to repair the damage to the car. You should ask them if your policy covers the cost of a rental car," she said.
The bottom line is, if you are confused or unclear about anything in the wake of your accident, be sure to pipe up and ask rather than be sorry down the road.
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