What to Do and What Not to Do Immediately Following a Motor Vehicle Accident (MVA)
After a car accident, it can be difficult to remember what to do. You’re upset, you’re stressed, your brain gets fuzzy, and you think “What do I do now? Do I call the police?”
So, here’s a reminder of the steps to take right after you’re in a car accident - from the scene of the accident, before you drive away, and later. And as a bonus, what NOT to do.
What to do from the scene of the accident:
1. Check for injuries!
We know we don’t need to tell you to check yourself and your passengers for injuries, but don’t forget about the people in the other car, too. First, make sure you and your passengers are alright, and then (if it’s safe to) go and check on the driver and passengers or any other cars involved.
If anyone is hurt, call 9-1-1. Do what you can to make the scene safer for everyone - put on your hazard lights or put up some cones to block traffic. If there is an immediate danger, like if the car is on fire, do what you can to get people to safety - but otherwise never move an injured person. You could make their injuries worse!
2. Check the damage/Call the police.
The extent of the damage determines whether or not the police need to attend for an accident report. When the total cost of the damages are over a certain threshold (which varies province to province - 2k in Ontario, 1k in BC), then you’re required to report the accident from the scene and wait for the police to come. If the damage is very minor, then you don’t need to.
If there is visible damage to one or more cars, you might just want to call the police to report the accident anyways… since most of us do not have the experience to make a car repair estimate. Also, if you suspect someone might be intoxicated, then definitely do call the police.
3. Find witnesses.
Look around for anyone who may have gotten out of their cars to help, or even just someone who was driving right behind you at the time, and ask if they wouldn’t mind sticking around to be a witness. It’s a huge help to have third party witnesses - you’ll be glad to have them should a personal injury case end up in trial.
4. Get photo evidence!
Pull out your phone and start taking pics! The more evidence the better.
Get pics of the whole scene, closeups of the damage to your car and any others, too. Get pics of the other driver(s) and anyone else involved, too. It seems awkward, but you never know when you might need that. Try to get all the details photographed.
5. Move your car off of the road.
In most accidents, everyone involved in the accident should move their cars over to the side and out of the way of traffic if they can. This will help prevent further accidents, and also get traffic moving better (road rage prevention!).
Many people have the idea that you need to leave your car where it is so the police can properly do their report, but this is a misconception. The police will be able to do their report regardless, and seeing where the cars stopped after the crash is not the most important factor in determining the fault of the accident. That’s what pictures, your statements, and witness statements are for. Plus, a lot can be figured out just by seeing where the damage is on the vehicles.
The safety of those on the scene, first responders coming to the scene, and other drivers on the road far outweighs any benefit to leaving the cars in place. And actually, for this reason, many places require you by law to move your car after an accident whenever possible.
In some cases, though, you should definitely not move any of the vehicles. If the car accident is very serious, like if someone is seriously injured or dead, then don’t move anything. Put your 4-way flashers on and do anything else you can to ensure the safety of everyone involved until emergency personnel arrive.
6. Get everyone’s details.
Exchange information with the other driver(s), passengers, and witnesses. Be sure to get their names and contact info. Take photos of their driver’s licenses if you can! That way you know you’ve got everything spelled correctly, and you’ve got their correct driver’s license number, and that they aren’t lying about who they are.
Also find out who their insurance company is and get their insurance policy number. If you haven’t gotten this in the photos you took earlier, make sure to also record the licence plate numbers or each of the vehicles involved.
7. Write down any and all relevant details about the accident before you forget!
Take a record of:
- the date and time of the accident
- your speed
- the speed of the other vehicles (your best guess compared to your own speed)
- the road conditions (was it dry? wet? Icy? were there potholes or other obstacles?)
- the weather (rain, fog, or snow etc. can play a role in the accident)
- a detailed description of how the accident went down
- the name of the officer who completed the report and the report number, if there was one
- any other details you can think of that may be relevant
What to do as soon as you can after the car accident:
1. Call the Collision Reporting Centre for your province.
You’ll need to call and give all of the details you collected to the collision centre. Everyone involved in the accident is expected to report it, usually within 24 hours. They’ll ask lots of questions and take all the info, so expect the call to take a bit of time.
2. Call your insurance company.
This call will be much the same as the Collision Reporting Centre, and if your car is in need of repairs, they’ll let you know where to go for an estimate and what that process will be like.
3. See a healthcare professional.
If you have any injuries from the time of the accident, or any that appeared within a few days afterwards, see a healthcare professional. Even if your injuries are very minor, you need to be seen by a doctor - this is part of the documentation process. Let them know you are there because of a motor vehicle accident at the time of the appointment.
If you’re not seen by a doctor after the accident, it will make it very difficult to pursue a personal injury claim.
What you should definitely NOT do after an accident:
1. Don’t hit and run!
If you are in an accident and you take off without sharing your information with the other party, you’ll be in big trouble.You can lose your license, get expensive fines, or even face criminal charges!
2. Don’t discuss the car accident with the other driver.
You should not discuss the details of the accident with the other driver or anyone else involved. Let your insurance companies or the police get everyone’s stories and sort it out.
And definitely don’t apologize to the other driver(s) or say anything else that could make it sound like you’re taking responsibility for the accident.
3. Never say you’re fine at the time of the accident.
Just because you feel fine at the time of the accident does not mean injuries will not appear later. It can sometimes take a day or two for injuries to appear after a car accident.
So, if the police or anyone asks you about injuries at the scene, if you feel fine, just say that you do not need an ambulance to be called, and that you feel alright to get home and see a doctor.
When your insurance provider or the reporting centre asks if you have any injuries, you can say that you are not yet sure the extent of the injuries and you will be seeing a doctor.
If injuries do start to surface, see your healthcare provider as soon as possible and always follow their recommendations for treatment.
After ensuring the safety of everyone at the scene of the accident, protecting your interests should be your first priority. You never know what may happen with your injuries, or whether the other driver might deny fault in the accident, or even disappear completely. If you end up needing to make a personal injury claim, you're going to want to make sure you have done all of the most important things right. So, make sure you document everything, take lots of pics, never give anyone a chance to use your own words against you, and see a doctor.
If you’ve been injured in a car accident, we recommend that you get in touch with a personal injury lawyer. You can usually have a free consultation to find out whether you should pursue a personal injury claim. Plus, personal injury lawyers usually work on contingency - so you don’t have to pay anything up front.
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