How to avoid the biggest pitfalls and mistakes drivers make after a car accident.
After an accident, many well-intentioned drivers end up unknowingly incriminating themselves by admitting fault, neglecting their injuries, and making other mistakes that get them into trouble. And it’s not hard to imagine why: Understandably, the aftermath of a car accident makes it hard for people to think clearly and follow the best course of action.
And that’s why we’re here. By knowing what not to do after an accident, you can avoid the most common mistakes that drivers make.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the total number of car crashes in 2020 reached over 5 million (or about 13,600 a day).1
Regardless of who is at fault or how serious you think the damages are, do not leave the scene after a car accident. Most states require you to stay at the scene of an accident by law. Failure to do so could result in a misdemeanor or felony, large fines, license suspension, or even prison time.
According to NHTSA, there are more than 1.5 million hit-and-run accidents a year. Roughly half a million of these accidents result in injury, and over 6,500 result in deaths.
You might feel the need to apologize to the other driver, argue with them, or explain your side of the accident. This would be a big mistake. Statements you may not think twice about, such as expressing incredulity or sympathy to the driver, may be used against you later during the claims process (whether or not you’re at fault in the car accident).
Other than exchanging information with the other party, you shouldn’t really discuss anything with them. And when speaking to an officer for the police report, it’s important to stick to the facts. If you’re concerned you might incriminate yourself by answering an officer’s question, you have the right to tell them you’d rather wait to have an attorney present before answering any more questions.2
Road rage and frustrations while driving can lead to accidents on the road, but it’s important not to lose your cool in the moment. Remaining calm can help you avoid a physical altercation and ensure you don’t say anything that can be used against you in a claim or lawsuit.
Even if the other party is at fault, you will not help yourself by getting heated, angry, or aggressive with the other driver.
Especially immediately after an accident, the other driver’s insurance may try to contact you to gain additional information that could be used against you. Unless you have a lawyer present to guide you through the process, there’s no benefit to speaking with the other party’s provider.
You are obligated to contact and communicate with your own insurance provider only, not the other party’s (known as third-party car insurance).
You might be wondering who you should call first in an accident. First, call the police. Then, call your insurance provider. You need to report the accident to your provider in a timely manner (the time limit depends on your state); if you don’t, your provider could deny you coverage for your claims.
In most cases, it is actually legal for you and the other party to exchange money directly after an accident. As long as the accident doesn’t result in a death or injury/property damages over a certain dollar amount (usually $500 to $1,000), you don’t have to file a police report. Be sure to check your local guidelines as the law differs from state to state.
However, we don’t recommend paying out of pocket. You may be tempted to accept an immediate cash offer instead of going through the lengthy insurance claims process, but neither you or the other party knows the extent of the damages, injuries, and costs associated with the accident.
Any offer you make or accept is an educated guess at best. Plus, if you have any injuries — especially a head injury that develops over time — you may not have as much leverage to get the compensation you actually need to treat them.
While you’re waiting for the police to arrive at the scene, you should exchange contact information with the other driver, take photos and videos of damages/injuries, and gather notes. Specifically, you should get and make note of the following information:
You might also want to gather the names and numbers of any nearby witnesses. All of this information will help you with the police report, claims process, and any lawsuits.
With the pain-numbing adrenaline pumping and the urgency of the moment springing you to action, it’s easy to overlook the severity of your injuries (especially internal injuries) and not seek medical attention. You might walk away from the accident thinking you’re fine, only to later experience fatigue, soreness, or a more serious head injury hours or days later.
Research from the CDC has shown that motor vehicle crashes were a leading cause of traumatic brain injury, which led to 64,000 deaths in 2020.3 The sooner you get checked by a doctor, the sooner you can get the help you need and gain the proper compensation for your bodily injuries.
Overview of Motor Vehicle Crashes in 2020. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. (2022, Mar).
Should I speak with the police following a car accident? Attorney Steve Lee. (2023).
Get the Facts About TBI. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2023).