A car accident is a frightening event – and whether you’re injured or your car gets damaged, dealing with the aftermath of an accident is scary, confusing, and overwhelming. You need to take action immediately after an accident, but how can you be sure you’re covering every base and taking the right steps?

Here are the steps you need to take as soon as you’ve been involved a car accident.

Stop Your Vehicle

As soon as an accident occurs, you’re likely to be shaken up. However, don’t continue to drive. Stop your car and don’t leave the scene of the accident.

Leaving the scene of an accident can be a crime, so it’s very important that you stay put. If your car is blocking traffic but is able to be moved, move out of the street and off to the side of the road. If your car cannot be moved, make sure to stay inside the vehicle until it’s safe to get out.

Assess the Scene

When you’re able to safely get out of your car, you’ll want to assess the scene. Take a look at the damage, speak with those involved, and determine whether anyone has called the police to come to the scene.

Even if you’ve been in a minor accident, it’s a good idea to call the police. A police accident report is an important step in working with your auto insurance company and assessing any damage, fault, or injuries, so you should call the police. In fact, in some states, Allstate notes that you’re required to call the police even if it’s simply fender bender.

Take Pictures of the Scene and Damage

While you’re waiting for the police and any emergency services to arrive, it’s time to begin documenting the damage and aftermath of the accident. If you aren’t injured and aren’t stuck in the middle of a road or traffic area, you should use your smartphone to snap photos of the scene, your vehicle, and any other vehicles involved.

You should take photos of all sides of your vehicle, the other cars’ license plate, and all sides of any other vehicles involved. You can also take photos of other important factors, like any other obstacles that were hit and damaged, any personal information like others’ insurance cards and drivers’ licenses, and the intersection or road where the accident took place.

Photos are a crucial step in the insurance claims process. Documentation through photos ensures there’s proof of the damage that occurred during the accident, and it helps support both your side of events and reports of damage on all cars involved. Photos also prevent other parties involved in the accident from misrepresenting or incorrectly reporting damage.

Gather Information

Once you’ve taken photographs, it’s time to collect even more information that will help you recoup any losses, handle any damages, and deal with your auto insurance claim. But before you begin collecting more information, there’s one big, important rule you must follow.

Limit your discussion and conversation with the other parties involved in the accident. While you’ll need to speak with the others involved to get their information, you shouldn’t discuss anything about the accident in-depth with them. And you should never admit responsibility for any part in the accident.

Discussing responsibility or liability at the scene could result in you saying something that could be used against you later on. If you mention being responsible, you could be held responsible for the damages and injuries caused in the accident. As The Balance recommends, you should only discuss fault, liability, and the details of the accident with police, medical professionals, and your insurance company.

With that in mind, you’ll want to get as much information as you can to make your auto insurance claim as seamless as possible. Here’s what you should collect at the scene:

  • The names of all drivers and passengers in all vehicles
  • The makes, models, and license plate numbers of all involved cars
  • Auto insurance information from everyone involved
  • The contact information for any eyewitnesses who saw the accident take place
  • The location of the accident (or street name)
  • The direction you were traveling, as well as the direction any others involved were traveling
  • Visibility and weather conditions
  • The names and badge numbers of the responding police officers

In addition to gathering information, you’ll also want to share information with the responding police officers. They will ask for your version of the events, so be sure to give them as much information as you can when speaking with them. You’ll also want to ask when and where you’ll be able to get a copy of the police report when it’s available, as your auto insurance claim will need this important document.

Contact Your Auto Insurance Company

Once you’ve dealt directly with the scene of the accident, it’s time to notify your auto insurance company and file a claim.

You’ll want to file a claim as quickly as you can after the accident happens. You can even call your auto insurance company from the scene and file your claim on the spot. The reason you’ll want to file quickly is because you want to describe the accident to your insurance company as accurately as possible – and your memory might change in the days after the accident.

When you speak with your insurance company’s claims department, the agent will walk you through the steps of filing a claim. They’ll ask for all the information you have, and you should be as detailed as possible. Then, your insurance agent will provide you with the information you need to take next steps once the claim is in motion.

Contact a Car Accident Attorney

The next step that should be completed as soon as possible is contacting a car accident attorney. Even if you aren’t certain you’ll need an attorney, you should contact one as soon as possible after you’ve dealt with the immediate concerns of the accident. An attorney will be needed to deal with insurance companies and any contact you get regarding the accident – and the sooner you have an attorney on your side, the better.

If your accident involved serious harm or a complicated chain of events, you’ll want an attorney on your side. An attorney can protect you and your best interests, fighting for appropriate compensation for your damages, helping you get the medical care you might need, and ensuring the accident’s events are properly represented.

But even if you were involved in a smaller accident, you may still want an attorney’s help. An attorney can handle communication with all insurance companies and can help you ensure you get the compensation you deserve. Dealing with insurance companies, especially if you’re trying to collect money, can take years. An attorney can make the process easier and more fair.