How to Handle a Car Accident

Matt was happy to get his driver’s license. He was looking forward to being able to go to the movies and see his friends on his own.

A few weeks later, Matt was going to visit his friend Mark. Matt was waiting at a stop sign two blocks from Mark’s house when he felt a sudden jolt. Someone had hit his car from behind. Matt started to feel scared, and his first thought was, “What do I do now?”

Car crash

Most of us will probably never do anything more dangerous than driving. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) says that car accidents kill more than 30,000 people and hurt more than 2 million people every year in the U.S.

Even if you try to drive carefully and defensively, it’s a good idea to know what to do in case you get into an accident. Crashing can be scary, but if it happens to you, here are some things to do:

Just take a few deep breaths to calm down. After a crash, a person may feel shocked, guilty, afraid, nervous, or angry. All of these feelings are normal. But if you need to calm down, take a few deep breaths or count to ten. The more calm you are, the better you’ll be able to deal with the situation. Now is the time to think about the accident and try to figure out how bad it was.

Make sure you and everyone else are safe. If you can’t get out of your car or it’s not safe to try, keep your seatbelt on, turn on your hazard lights, call 911 if you can, and wait for help to arrive. If it looks like the accident wasn’t too bad, turn off your car and get your emergency kit. Set up orange cones, warning triangles, or emergency flares around the crash site if it is safe to get out of your car and move around it.

If there are no injuries and your car can still be driven, try to move it to a safe place that doesn’t block traffic (like the shoulder of a highway or a parking lot). In some states, though, it is against the law to move your car from the scene of an accident. Ask the person who taught you how to drive what the rules are in your state.

Check to see if anyone is hurt, and report the event.
Check on everyone who was in the accident to see if anyone is hurt. This includes making sure you don’t have any serious wounds. Be very careful, because not all wounds can be seen. Call 911 or whatever number your state uses to call for help on the road if you or anyone else isn’t feeling well. For example, if you try to take pictures or write down details about the crash and start to feel dizzy or out of it, you should call for help. You should be ready to tell the dispatcher the following:

Who? The dispatcher will ask for your name and phone number in case the police need to contact you later for more information.
What? Tell the dispatcher as much as you can about the emergency, such as if there is a fire, a traffic hazard, a medical emergency, etc.
Where? Tell the dispatcher the exact location of the emergency. Give them the city, road name, road number, mile markers, direction of travel, traffic signs, and anything else you can think of to help them find you.
Keep talking until the dispatcher tells you it’s okay to hang up.

Even if no one is hurt, you can sometimes get the police to come to the scene of a crash if you tell them you need someone to help you figure out what happened and who’s to blame. But in some places, police won’t come to an accident scene if both cars can be driven away safely and no one is hurt. Make sure to file a vehicle incident report at a police station if the police don’t come to the scene.

Write down details about the driver.
Ask the other drivers involved in the accident to show you their licenses so you can write down their license numbers. Get their name, address, phone number, insurance company, insurance policy number, and license plate number. If the other driver doesn’t own the car, you should also get the name of the owner.

Make notes about the accident.
If the accident is small and you think you can explain what happened, try to take pictures and write down what happened. Notes and pictures of the scene could help the court and insurance companies figure out who is at fault. Find out the year, make, model, and color of the vehicles in question. Take pictures of the scene, including the cars and any damage, the roads, any traffic signs, and the direction each car was coming from.

Try to draw a diagram of the exact crash site and mark where each car was, what direction it was coming from, and what lane it was in. Note the date, the time, and the weather. If there were any witnesses, try to get their names and contact information in case one of the other drivers isn’t telling the truth about what happened.

You can do these things only if you think the accident wasn’t too bad (for instance, if the airbag did not inflate). If the accident is bad, you should call the police.

Even if you think you caused a crash, it might not have been your fault. Because of this, insurance companies say you shouldn’t take the blame or say you were at fault at the scene.

What came next
Even though the crash itself might be scary, it can also be scary to deal with what happens next. Some people may still be shaken up hours or days after a car accident. They might feel bad about what happened, especially if they think the crash could have been avoided. People who are close to the people involved, such as family members and best friends, can sometimes also have emotional problems. These are all normal ways to feel. Most car accidents are forgotten about after some time has passed, the car is fixed, and the insurance company is dealt with.

But sometimes, these feelings can get worse or last longer, making it hard for a person to live a normal life. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can happen after a terrible event that hurt or almost hurt someone. PTSD symptoms could show up right after the crash or weeks or even months later.

Everyone who feels stressed after a traumatic event does not have PTSD. Here are some signs to watch out for, though:

avoiding feelings or things that remind them of what happened.
feeling anxious, irritable, or angry all the time.
avoiding tests or procedures at the hospital
reliving the event over and over in one’s mind
nightmares or sleep problems


If you notice any of these things after a car accident, talk to a friend or family member you trust about what happened. Talk about what happened, how you felt, what you thought, and what you did during and after the crash. Try to do things you normally do, even if they make you feel uneasy. If none of these things help, ask your parent or guardian to take you to the doctor.

Other Issues on the Road
Lots of people have small problems, like backing out of the driveway and hitting the mailbox. Common problems like blowouts and breakdowns happen when cars hit mailboxes and other cars.

Weak Tires
When you’re driving, getting a flat tire can really shake you up. Make sure your tires aren’t too old and check the pressure in them at least once a month to avoid this.

If you do end up in a blowout situation, AAA has some tips to help you get through it safely:

Don’t worry, and keep your foot off the brake.If you stop too quickly, you might skid. Keep your eyes on the road ahead and a firm grip on the wheel. Put your foot off the accelerator and slow down slowly. Try to move the car safely to the side of the road. Let the car slow down before putting light pressure on the brakes. Stop the car by the side of the road, on the shoulder, or in a parking lot.

Set up your break-down area.Once you’re out of the way of traffic and off the road, turn on your emergency flashers to let other drivers know what’s going on. Set up your warning signs (cones, triangles, or flares) behind your car to let people know it’s broken down. If you know how to change your tire and can do it safely without getting too close to traffic, do it. If you don’t know how to change your tire and need help, call your auto club.

If you need help, ask for it.Automobile clubs can help 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Many people join so they can get help in an emergency. If your family is a member of an auto club, ask your parents if you can get a membership card. Call for help using a cell phone or a roadside emergency phone. While you wait, raise the hood of your car and hang a white T-shirt or rag out the window or from the radio antenna to let police officers know you need help. Don’t try to flag down other cars because it could be dangerous. You should only walk along a highway with more than one lane if you can see a business or someone who can help you nearby.

Don’t walk into traffic or get close to it.
when it’s finished. Take your car to the shop so a mechanic can check it out and see if it’s broken.

If your car breaks down, stop it safely out of the way of traffic and as far away from the road as you can. Set up your breakdown site away from traffic. One big difference between flat tires and breakdowns is that you are more likely to be able to fix a flat tire. That’s why it’s smart to show the white cloth and call for roadside assistance or the police to let them know you need help.

If you can get your car out of the way of traffic safely, stay inside and lock the doors. If someone stops to help you, just open the window a little and tell them you’ve already called for help. Again, don’t walk along a highway with more than two lanes unless you can see help nearby, and stay as far away from traffic as you can.

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