Car accidents are frightening and debilitating, but generally no big deal. They can also be a way for someone to initiate contact with you for nefarious reasons. Do you have a plan that will keep you and your family safe as well as let you handle the insurance and legal needs after an accident?
Last week I was filling up my truck at a gas station when someone pulled in to use the pump behind me. They where trying to squeeze in a small spot. She got too close. I knew there was a problem when the truck rocked from being hit. It’s one of the secrets to having a truck, keep the hitch in the receiver. She hit the receiver hitch but didn’t do any damage to my company truck. She only dented the front license plate of her old car.
In a small accident where there seems to be no damage, you need to pay attention to your surroundings even more. As soon as that accident happened, I looked at her and all the people around me.
An old trick of thieves, rapists, and murders is to cause a minor car accident and when you get out to look at the damage, they have you. So be aware of your surrounding, especially if no one is hurt and there is no damage.
You don’t have to get out of your vehicle right away. It’s okay to wait a second in your vehicle with the doors locked and engine running. If the person is attacking you, they have probably done this before and have timed their movements to you getting out right away and looking at the damage. When you sit there for a second it throws their timing off and you get a second to look at what they are doing and holding.
Don’t forget to look at their hands. Give them a once over look and try to determine what their intentions are. Is the person really sorry, doesn’t care, focused on the damage, or focused on you? The last one could be a problem.
While you are trying to size the other person up, you might want to look at their demeanor. Are they overly agitated? You may not care about your car that much, but dent or scratch a biker’s Harley and you’ll see someone that is ready to fight and take revenge for their baby. Some people treat their vehicles better then their spouse or kid. Their identity is tied up in the vehicle. Even if it’s their fault they will be pissed at you for denting their ride. Watch out, it could go south on you.
Saying I’m sorry and I have insurance could be a really cool thing to say that has little to no legal weight but might keep you from being attacked by someone that loves their car more then anything else.
Don’t forget to look for other people, too. There may be more than one person trying to run a con on you and take your vehicle, your stuff, or your life. Look around and make sure you see everyone around you and your vehicle before you get out.
Other Safety Issues
Be careful where you get out of your vehicle. You are still some place that cars are going by. I’ve seen multiple accidents that the people get out in the middle of a busy area and want to look at the damage and then talk about it. That’s a good way to get hit by someone that’s trying to see what’s going on and not looking at their driving. Getting hit by a passing vehicle will get you dead faster than anything else.
Pay attention to where you park. Get your vehicle all the way out of traffic or use it as a traffic block to keep people from hitting you.
Sometimes you can do a quick “I’ll meet you over there” conversation with the other people involved and get out of traffic.
You do have car insurance, right? Do you have just liability or do you have full coverage? Know what your policy actually says. It will help you in the aftermath of an accident.
Hint: Check to see what your liability covers for amounts. Most state minimums are really not enough and for a couple bucks a month, you can get more insurance than you could probably ever use. Here in Texas, the minimum is $25,000 per accident to replace property. How many new cars on the road are only worth $25,000 to replace? What if there is more than one car involved? What if you hit an expensive car or big truck? Check it out and know what your insurance will cover. If you are in a five-car pile-up and are found liable and you only have the minimum insurance, your company will write a check for $25,000 and you are on the hook for the rest.
Make sure you have a copy of your insurance card with you in the vehicle. Or better yet, I get mine electronically from USAA and keep a copy accessible on my iPhone. Make sure you know what the state law says and don’t break that.
You are going to want pictures of everything. If you don’t have a magic phone that can take pictures, you should have a disposable camera in the vehicle to take pictures. Burn up the memory and/or pictures on the camera. Take a lot of pictures.
Get contact info for all the people involved. Don’t forget to take pictures of anything you get your hands on. This will give you an easy record of the parties involved. I also suggest taking a picture of the other cars’ license plate numbers. You are going to need that later and will want it if the other person tries to disappear. If the other people are hesitant about giving you the information, call the police and ask an officer to help. They have to give you the information or most of the time they are breaking the law by committing a hit and run.
When taking pictures of damage, take a picture of the entire side of the car and the close ups of the damage. On the close ups try to add something for size comparison. Overseas, I used a magazine and 9mm bullets. I wouldn’t suggest that in the states, but your hand next to the damage would give a good size comparison. Take pictures of any debris from the vehicle scattered in the road. Try to get pictures before someone moves it or it gets hit by another vehicle and destroyed. But don’t worry if you don’t get them right away, it won’t hurt you that much in the long run, it’s just better to have that info. But it’s not worth getting hit by a car or having other people leave that were involved or saw what happened. If the cars are in the same spot and you can’t or haven’t moved them, try to get pictures from all four sides and wide angles. This way you can see where the vehicles came to rest.
With all these pictures, a professional can easily see who’s fault it was and what happened by the way the damage that is done and the location of the vehicles.
When you get done with exchanging all the contact and insurance information, make notes of what happened as soon as you can. Either write yourself an actual report or just bullet point notes. Try to put the events in the order they happened, which will help you recall things later. Unfortunately, it could be months before the insurance company gets to what happened, especially if there were injuries or a claim of injuries.
Unfortunately, in our society today, you could be victimized in multiple ways during and after a car accident. Make sure you keep your head on a swivel and don’t focus on the damage until you are sure it’s safe. Don’t get hit by a bad guy or passing car. Whenever you are in a roadway outside your vehicle, assume that you are invisible and get out of the way of moving cars.
Get as much documentation as possible, you may never use it (and that’s the best case scenario), but if you need it, you will want it badly. There are a lot of people out there looking for the big pay off from an insurance company and they will sue you to get to your insurance company. Any and all pictures, notes, witnesses, and memories will help the court decide what really happened in the worst case.