Know Risk is a community education program designed by the Australian and New Zealand Institute of Insurance and Finance (ANZIIF) to improve our understanding of insurance and how it relates to managing the many risks we all face in life.
What to do after a car accident and how to make a claim
Beyond the bingle, what you should do after an accident.
If you’ve ever been in the unfortunate situation of being a party to a car accident, then you will know that it can be an incredibly stressful and emotional experience that often feels like a complete blur once you’ve had a little bit of distance from the it.
Quite often, you may react entirely differently immediately following a car accident to how you thought you would — a lot of people operate on autopilot and forget to do things or ask things of the other driver/s that may seem obvious to people who have had the good luck to have never been in an accident, but that can often completely slip the mind of someone who is suffering from shock.
While car accidents are always going to be unpleasant things to deal with, having a base knowledge of what to do if you are ever unlucky enough to be a party to one can help make everything that comes after a little smoother and a little less traumatic for everyone involved.
What should I do immediately following an accident?
Obviously, the very first thing you should do is stop your car immediately. And while it might seem futile to suggest, if you are involved in a car accident, it is in your and everyone else’s best interests that you try to maintain your composure and remain calm.
Once you’ve got that sorted, try to do the following:
- Switch on your hazard lights and, if possible, move your car out of the path of traffic.
- Where it’s safe to do so, check to see if anyone has been hurt or injured and call an ambulance if need be. If someone has been hurt, stay with them at the site of the crash until an ambulance or police have arrived on the scene.
- If there are items or glass on the road, try to remove them, but only if it is absolutely safe to do so.
- Exchange names, addresses, insurance, registration and licence details with the other driver/s.
Are there any legal requirements?
Yes, there are, and it’s extremely important that you are aware of them. In the event of an accident, the following are legally required of you if you are involved:
- You have to stop if you are a party to an accident.
- You are legally obligated to provide your name and address to the other party/parties to an accident.
- If someone is injured or a property whose owner is not at the scene is damaged, you must report the accident to police.
- If it looks like your vehicle may be unroadworthy, you are not allowed to drive away from the accident in that vehicle.
What shouldn’t I do following an accident?
This is a very important detail: Do not admit liability under any circumstances. Even if it’s pretty obvious to you, anyone else involved or any witnesses that you are the one at fault, it is up to the insurer to determine that.
Some other important things to avoid include:
- Don’t argue with the other driver/s or become aggressive — that kind of behaviour will be beneficial to absolutely no-one, but especially not to you.
- Don’t leave your car in the middle of an intersection if it can be avoided (i.e. if it’s safe to move it).
- Do not lie to police or an insurer — this is an extraordinarily bad idea, regardless of how harmless you think a little white lie might be.
- Sometimes, tow trucks magically appear at the scene of an accident. If you feel at all pressured to use their services, then don’t go ahead with them. You can always make arrangements with another tow truck operator and your insurer can help with making a recommendation.
What details should I take note of?
In addition to taking the details of the other driver/s, some important things for you to note include:
- The specific location of the crash, taking particular note of any cross streets
- A description of the other vehicle/s involved — where possible, try to get the make, model, colour and year
- The details of the owner of the car/s involved — while it’s important for you to get the details of the other driver/s, they may not necessarily be the owner of the vehicle/s
- External factors — these are things such as the weather and the condition of the road — basically, anything that may have contributed to the crash
- The date and time of the crash
- The details of any witnesses to the crash
It is also a great idea to take photos of the crash site. Use your phone to take pictures of the following, where possible:
- General images of the crash site, which give an overall view of the situation
- Close-up photos of the damage to your car and any other vehicles involved — it is especially important that you try and get as detailed and comprehensive images as possible of the damage sustained by other vehicles
- Any traffic indicators — so stop signs, give way signs and traffic lights, which may be an indicator of who was at fault
- Skid marks if there are any
- The condition of the road if it played a part in the accident
- Any damaged stationary objects, like street signs and traffic lights, etc.
- Any injuries you sustained and, if possible, any injuries sustained by other parties to the crash
How do I go about making a claim?
You should always try to report the accident to your insurer as soon as possible. Even if you don’t intend to make a claim, it’s always possible that the other driver/s will make a claim against your insurance, so don’t let it be a shock to your insurer if and when that happens. In the event that you do want to make a claim, going ahead and doing so as soon as possible after the accident is always advisable, as the details will be most fresh in your mind.
Making a claim is actually quite a simple and straightforward process, especially if you have done all of the above. Most insurers make claims services available to you over the phone — some even provide a 24-hour claim service. You can also make a claim online or via a paper insurance claim form. Some insurers even have an app through which you can make your claim.
When you are making your claim, it is best to include as much detail as possible. Do not be afraid to ask questions about any excesses that might be payable, what happens next and how to go about organising repairs. Your insurer is there to help and, while they might not seem like the most obvious source of comfort following a car accident, claims staff are typically quite understanding and sympathetic to the experience you will have endured and they will do their best to make what can often be a traumatic experience a little easier on you.