You’ve been looking forward to your vacation for months. The car is packed, you’ve booked the hotel, and you’re planning several days of uninterrupted relaxation. Nothing could possibly go wrong, yes?
Unfortunately, travel plans don’t always work out the way you planned. Car collisions are all too common, and if you’re traveling by car, you might find yourself involved in one. If it happens to you, don’t panic!
Your vacation doesn’t have to be ruined. There are a few things you must be sure to do to navigate the process successfully.
1. Stay Calm and Assess Injuries
As the dust settles and you come to grips with the reality that you were just in a collision, do your best to remain calm and safe. Take a few deep breaths, and don’t wander from the scene if at all possible.
“Stay in your car until help arrives,” says Tonya Prater, author of the blog Travel Inspired Living. “The only exception is if your vehicle is in danger, in which case you should exit the vehicle as safely as possible, and move to a safe location out of the flow of traffic.”
After you’ve made sure everyone is safe, check for injuries. If you’re lucky, there will only be a few scrapes and bruises.
But many car accidents are far more serious and require medical attention. Before worrying about anything else, make sure those in need of medical care receive it.
2. Call the Police
Many people who get involved in a collision choose not to call the police. They prefer not to bother the authorities, and sometimes, as when there is little or no clear damage, it might be okay to leave them out of the situation, so long as you document that there was no damage before leaving.
If injuries or significant damage have occurred, however, you should notify the authorities. “In most states, when a car accident results in injuries, and/or causes vehicle damage over a certain dollar amount, law enforcement must be notified,” says David Goguen, J.D. in an article published on Nolo.
“In any case, a trained law enforcement officer (from the local police or sheriff’s department) can be an invaluable source of help and information in such a confusing situation.” A police report will also protect you if the other driver tries to claim injuries or damage that didn’t happen.
3. Exchange Information with the Other Driver
It’s proper to get the information of the other driver so the at-fault party’s insurance carrier may cover the damages. Write down the name and phone number of the other driver(s), as well as the license plate number, make, model, and insurance information for all the vehicles involved.
4. Document the Accident
When things have calmed down and the people who need medical attention have received it, take a few minutes to document the accident. Sometimes, insurance companies require such proof to release a full payment.
In addition, accident fraudsters will sometimes attempt to claim more damage or injury than actually was the case. Your thorough documentation will protect you from fraud.
Take photos, talk to witnesses, and write down their contact information in case you need them to testify later. The police report will also help if facts are disputed.
5. Report Your Claim to the Insurance Company (If Applicable)
If it was your fault, you’ll need to report the claim to the insurance company, so it can make payments. If it wasn’t your fault, though, the other driver’s insurance should pay for the damages.
Be wary of reporting accidents to your insurer when they aren’t your responsibility, because it can sometimes cause your rates to increase, even though you didn’t do anything.
6. Hire an Attorney
If the other party refuses to pay, is inadequately insured, or the insurance company gives you trouble, you can fight for your just compensation. You can also fight if the settlement does not furnish enough to cover the resulting pain and suffering from your accident.
“Many crash victims wonder whether they really need an attorney after an auto accident,” observe the attorneys at Demas Law Group in Sacramento. “After all, the at-fault driver’s insurance company may have already contacted you with a settlement amount offer. The fact is: If you have been seriously hurt in a crash, you can’t trust a profit-minded insurance company. You need your own attorney to conduct an independent investigation and calculate an honest assessment of your current and future damages.”
7. Try to Enjoy the Rest of Your Vacation!
Unless you or your party is seriously injured, you can probably resume your vacation as planned. Try not to let this setback ruin your good time.
If your car is too damaged to drive, park it and get a rental to finish out your trip. You can take care of the car and the serious aspects of the accident when you return home.