15 Things You Should Do Within 10 Minutes of Having a Car Accident

"Oh no, this can't be happening," you think to yourself in the instant you realize you've been in a car accident. But it is. And what you do next can make all the difference in the world.

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upset man after wreck car crash
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Remain as close as you safely can to the scene

With 160,000 car accidents occurring each year in Canada, it’s a near certainty you’ll be involved in one eventually, but what you do in the first 10 minutes after can change how that accident impacts your life, according to Randolph Rice, a Maryland personal injury lawyer. First on the list of what to do after a car accident is remain at the scene of the accident. If you leave the scene, you could be charged with “hit and run,” which carries jail time and fines.

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Emergency button on the car panel. Alarm button in the car
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Activate hazard lights

Next on the list of what to do after a car accident is to draw attention to the accident by turning on your hazard lights, Rice advises. This will help warn other drivers they need to slow down as they approach. “You don’t want your accident to lead to another accident,” Rice tells Reader’s Digest. If you have a flare, this is the time to use it.

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Car accident
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Avoid standing on the road

High on the list of what not to do after a car accident is standing anywhere on the road. Rice urges everyone to consider how dangerous it is to stand on a street where drivers aren’t expecting pedestrians to be.

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Traffic cop in Ottawa, Ontario
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Leave traffic direction to the cops

Also in the interest of avoiding another accident, please don’t even think about trying to direct traffic, Rice advises. It’s not safe, and you don’t have the legal right to be doing so.

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Crime law security service officer cop guarding street near police car with siren light
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Call the police

When it comes to figuring out what to do after a car accident, in those first stressful 10 minutes, there’s no better resource than the police, Rice explains to Reader’s Digest. Whereas this might be your first accident, it’s not the first time a police officer has attended one. That puts them in a great position to guide you. Plus, the police can complete an accident report (which can help when it’s time to file an insurance claim), ensure the necessary information is exchanged among the parties involved, and arrange a tow truck and call an ambulance as needed.

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Woman driver calls for instruction during insurance agent review the dammage of the car after accident
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Exchange insurance and other important information

While waiting for the police to arrive, go ahead and exchange insurance information with any other people involved in the accident. That includes names, addresses, and phone numbers. This doesn’t mean you will file a claim, and it doesn’t mean that you have to file a claim. But it enables you to do so. And it leaves one less thing for the police to oversee when they arrive.

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Stressed Driver Sitting At Roadside After Traffic Accident
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Keep your mouth shut

The 10 minutes and even hours after the accident can be stressful. Rice says of car accidents, “drivers may have an initial impression of how the accident happened. But then the stress subsides and they start to relive the crash. Sometimes the initial impressions of the accident are not what really happened. Don’t admit fault at the scene, this is something that can be determined at a later date by your lawyer and the insurance companies.” By admitting fault, you may make yourself financially responsible for the accident, whether you actually are or aren’t.

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Close up hand of woman holding smartphone and take photo of car accident
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Take photographs

“A picture is worth a thousand words,” Rice explains, so take photos of the vehicles and the scene. Err on the side of taking too many rather than too few. “When we ask our clients how the accident happened, they often have trouble depicting the scene. But, if they bring pictures of the scene and vehicles, it’s much easier to understand the crash and how it happened.”

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car crash accident on street, damaged automobiles after collision in city
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Take note of the time and weather

“The time, date, and weather are important facts in any car accident scenario,” Rice explains. “The weather conditions can be relevant to who was at fault, or how much each driver was at fault.” And when you’re trying to remember what to do after a car accident, writing down these simple facts may help you to organize your thoughts and your actions.

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draw sketch
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Draw a diagram

Don’t leave the scene without drawing yourself a bird’s-eye view of the accident, Rice advises. It can be very helpful in figuring out (later on) who was at fault and what the precise nature of the damages are. “Include all of the street names, cross streets, traffic lights and where each vehicle was travelling before and after the impact. This will help you remember the accident if you have to go to court at a later date or recount the facts to your insurance company.”

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Injured woman feeling bad after having a car crash
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Think twice before saying, “I’m not injured”

You may not feel injured at the scene, but just like you shouldn’t admit fault, you shouldn’t say you’re not injured. You might actually be injured but not yet realize it, Rice points out.

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Ambulance in Toronto
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Consider getting medical attention

Even if you truly believe you’re not injured, you should allow yourself to be checked out by paramedics after a car accident if they were called to the scene, Rice adds. If paramedics suggest you go to the hospital, then you absolutely should go, Rice advises, based on what he’s seen in his experience. On the other hand, emergency room physician, Troy Madsen, M.D. believes paramedics tend to err on the side of caution, suggesting a visit to the ER even if they aren’t certain it’s necessary. So, what do you do if you don’t know what to do? First, Dr. Madsen points out that sometimes injuries won’t be immediately apparent due to the effects of shock/adrenaline. So if you do feel pain, particularly in the head, neck, or abdomen, it’s certainly worth a trip to the ER. It’s also worth a trip to the ER if you’re not in pain, but your car suggests perhaps you should be (cracked windshield could suggest a head injury, for example). Otherwise, it’s not unreasonable to wait a day to see how you’re feeling, bearing in mind that some injuries become apparent in the hours and days following an accident.

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Two Drivers Arguing After Traffic Accident
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Be careful who you talk to at the scene

It’s horrible but true—at least in the States: some people are professional accident stalkers, arriving at accident scenes within those first 10 minutes to try to get the people involved to be seen by a particular doctor or to sign on with a particular attorney. It’s illegal, Rice points out, at least in some American states, but it still happens. Don’t engage with these “runners,” as Rice calls them.

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Teenage Driver Making Phone Call After Traffic Accident
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Call your insurance company

You may not realize that high on the list of what to do after a car accident is getting in touch with your insurance company. Without making a formal claim, you’ll still want to confirm your coverage, and it could be helpful if the other driver(s) involved are willing to talk to your insurance company. “If you were not at fault for the accident, you want to have the at fault or liable driver on the record that they caused the accident.”

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Car collision. driver man and woman examining damaged automobile cars after crash accident in city
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BUT refuse to talk to anyone else’s insurance company, yourself

Many drivers who cause an accident later deny fault. By not talking to anyone else’s insurance company, you protect yourself from saying anything incriminating that might lead to a conclusion the accident was your fault. Leave it to your car accident attorney to contact the other drivers’ insurance company. “Anything you say to the other driver’s insurance adjuster can be used against you during the claim process.”

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Reader's Digest
Originally Published on Reader's Digest