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What to Do After a Car Crash

Medically reviewed by: Melanie L. Pitone, MD

Even when drivers do their best to drive safely, collisions can happen. It helps to know what to do in case you are in a crash.

What Should I Do Right Away?

If you’re in an accident, you first want to:

  • Take a few deep breaths to get calm or try counting to 10 slowly. Getting yourself grounded will make it easier to think clearly.
  • Check for injuries. Are you hurt? How about your riders, other drivers, or people nearby? 
  • Call 911 right away if anyone is hurt, if the airbags went off, or if your vehicle isn’t drivable. The dispatcher will ask you questions about where you are, what happened, and if anyone is injured. They’ll tell you when help is on the way. Stay on the line until the dispatcher says it's OK to hang up.

What Should I Do Next?

If the accident was minor and the area around you looks safe, try to:

  • Move your car out of traffic. If it is safe, move out of the way of traffic onto the shoulder of the road or into a nearby parking lot. Be sure to never leave the scene of an accident. In some cases, you shouldn’t move your car from the scene of a crash, though. If someone is hurt or trapped in the car or if it is not safe to move due to traffic, don’t move it.
  • Put on your hazard lights. Set up a warning triangle or emergency flare if you have one. Carefully get out of your car and stay as far away from traffic as possible. (If you can't get out or it's not safe to try, stay buckled and turn on your hazard lights. Then call 911 and wait for help.)
  • Report the accident. If there is an injury or a lot of damage to a car, when you call 911 the dispatcher will send the police and they will make a report. If the collision is minor and no one is hurt, you can still call the police to make a report of the accident. If the police don’t come to the scene, exchange information with the other driver and report the accident by filing a police report. Having a record of the accident could be helpful later when working with insurance companies.
  • Swap information with other drivers. Get their name, address, phone number, driver’s license numbers, insurance company, insurance policy number, and license plate number. You can use your phone to take pictures of these.
  • Jot down notes about what happened. Write down the date, time, weather conditions, and any details you can recall. You can use your phone to make a note. Take pictures of the area or draw a diagram. Take pictures of any damage to your car or theirs. If there were witnesses, get their contact info. Your notes may help the insurance companies sort out the accident.

If you have aches or pains, dizziness, or headaches in the days and weeks after an accident, call your doctor to get checked out.

It can be stressful to be involved in a crash. Sometimes people can feel nervous or anxious afterward or have trouble sleeping. Talk about your feelings with friends, a trusted adult, or a counselor. It also might help to take a defensive driving course every few years to keep your driving skills fresh. The course will boost your driving and might even save you money on car insurance.

Medically reviewed by: Melanie L. Pitone, MD
Date reviewed: June 2024