It's safe to say that every driver dreads the sound of grinding metal — crunch! — and that jarring feeling — thunk!— that accompanies a fender bender.
If you've experienced a minor car accident, you're not alone. Of the 5.6 million police-reported automobile accidents in 2012, 70 percent result in property damage, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Despite the common nature of fender benders, it may be hard to remember what to do when one happens to you. After all, traffic incidents can be chaotic, stressful, and even scary, even if no one is injured.
Adding to the potential for confusion, fender benders can take place anywhere. That means you may experience a minor car accident in a parking lot, in a driveway, on a quiet side street, or on the freeway in rush hour traffic.
Here are some things to keep in mind if you are involved in a fender bender:
First and foremost, stop the car. If you've just had a minor accident, it's not necessary to leave the cars where they are, says Cars.com. Instead, pull off the road and focus on getting to safety. Once you're out of the line of traffic, turn on your hazard lights. If you can't move your car without damaging it further, you might have to leave it where it is, but be sure to turn on your hazard lights.
Remember: Though laws differ from state to state, in most places it's against the law to drive away without stopping after an accident, even if it wasn't your fault... and hit-and-run penalties may be severe.
2. Call the police.
Once you've pulled over to the side of the road, call 911 and report the accident. Even if no one has been injured, a police officer acts as a neutral third party and may produce a report that could help you with your insurance claim.
3. Take pictures.
While you're waiting for the police to arrive, take pictures of the scene. Document any damage to your car, as well as the other driver's vehicle. You may also want to take a few shots of the location where the accident took place, as well as any witnesses or other people involved.
4. Exchange information.
This may be one of the most important things you do after an accident: exchange information with the other driver. Grab your insurance card, your driver's license, and your vehicle registration and exchange the following details with the other driver:
- Phone number
- Email address
- Date of birth
- Driver's license number and expiration date
- Insurance company policy numbers and contact information
- License plate number of the other car
- Make, model, and year of the other car
- Contact information of any eyewitnesses
When the police officer arrives, note their name, badge number, phone number, and accident report number. You should also request a copy of the accident report; this may take a couple of days to obtain, but it will be helpful when it comes time to file a claim. Check out the DMV’s accident guide to learn what information specific to your area.
5. Don't say too much.
Other than exchanging information, don't talk to the other driver. Wait until the police arrive and be truthful, while sticking to the facts.
6. Call your insurance provider.
Contact your insurance provider to report the accident. You'll be able to speak with a representative about your options and make the best decisions for your situation.
By following these simple steps, you may protect yourself in the case of a minor accident.