At some point in your life, you will probably be involved in a car accident. It may simply be a bump in the parking lot, or you could end up in a more serious accident where people are injured. In any case, knowing how to react to a car accident will improve the outcome for everyone involved.

You may be wondering, "Why do I need to know what to do if I'm in a car accident?" If you do not follow the proper procedure, your insurance company could refuse to pay your claim. In addition, you could face fines if you do not follow legal procedures. Being aware of the steps to follow will help you when you file police reports and when you file for insurance compensation.

As a precautionary measure, keep first aid supplies and an emergency kit in your car. Flares, a bright orange vest, a cell phone, and a disposable camera are all helpful objects to have in case of an accident.

If you are in a moving vehicle when an accident occurs, immediately and safely pull over to the side of the road, turn off your car, and turn on your hazard lights. Check to see if anyone is hurt. If there is an injured person, do not move them until you take standard first aid measures. Place flares, cones, or triangles alongside the road a few hundred feet before the accident so traffic is aware that there is an accident ahead.

Call 911 and inform them of any injuries. If you are on a freeway and do not have access to a cell phone or telephone, check for a roadside phone that you can use.

Trade information with everyone involved in the accident. Be sure to exchange the following:

• Name, address, phone numbers of all drivers
• Name, address, phone number of all passengers or witnesses
• Driver's license numbers and license plate numbers
•Insurance companies of all drivers involved
• Registered owners of all cars
•Year, model, make, etc. of all cars involved

Do not discuss what happened with anyone else but the police. Do not say that it was your fault, and do not make accusations. These comments may be used against you later. If time and accident conditions allow, take notes about your perception of what happened.

Immediately report the accident to your insurance company, and to the police if there is over $500 in damages (in Washington state-check with your state laws for the dollar amount in your state). You may find that the other driver has filed a report stating that the accident was your fault. If you have or suspect an injury, visit a doctor right away.

Following these simple steps will keep the accident scene as safe as possible, and will help to ensure that no one has to bear unnecessary blame. The next time you are involved in an accident, whether it be a fender-bender or a rollover, don't panic. Now you know the proper procedure for dealing with this type of situation.

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