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You Are In A Vehicle Collision—Now What?

According to car insurance industry analysis, the average driver, who is licensed at age 16, will be involved in three to four motor vehicle collisions throughout their lifetime. Therefore, it’s not really a question of if you will be in a car crash, but when.

Motor vehicle collisions are often terrifying and confusing. The shock of an impact, the resulting disorientation, and the injuries one suffers can easily lead to a sense of panic immediately after the event. If we know, statistically speaking, we will be involved in vehicle collisions, and we understand how chaotic those collisions can be, shouldn’t we be proactive about planning our responses when we do find ourselves in those situations?

For these reasons it’s a good idea to think about how you will react if you are in a vehicle crash before a crash ever happens. Designing a game plan for action and rehearsing this plan in advance, or discussing it with your loved ones, is a good way to internalize the steps you need to take if you find yourself in a vehicle collision. Not all of the advice below will be applicable to every vehicle collision -for example if you are unconscious after a wreck – you won’t be able to preform any of these tasks. In most collisions however, you will be able to apply some of these suggestions:

After a crash you should:

  1. Familiarize yourself with your immediate surroundings. Is your vehicle still on the roadway? Do you recognize which way your vehicle is facing? Are you in any immediate danger based on the placement of where your vehicle now rests?
    1. The answer to any of the above could influence your next moves. For example, if your vehicle left the roadway and is now submerging in water, you will want to think fast and act fast to escape (remove seatbelt, lower windows, etc.). If your vehicle is on fire, or you smell smoke you will want to exit and distance yourself from the vehicle as quickly as can be done in a safe manner. If however, as in most vehicle crashes, you are still on the roadway, and there is no immediate additional risk, you can afford to take more time to calculate your response.
  1. Take stock of the health of yourself and any passengers in your vehicle. Do you feel pain? Have you lost sensation in any of your arms or legs? Are you experiencing nausea or dizziness? Ask your passengers if they are okay.
    1. The responses to these inquiries will determine the necessity and urgency of contacting medical personnel. Please note, it is very common for persons to not immediately report an injury, even when they are later diagnosed with an injury from the crash. Adrenaline and other naturally occurring chemicals flood the brain during high-stress events. This cocktail of chemicals can mask the sensation of pain or discomfort after a motor vehicle collision. If you think you are injured, you may very well be injured to some extent.
    2. If you or any of your passengers are injured, or think you are injured, call 911 immediately and request an ambulance and police response to the scene of the crash. Follow any instructions given by the emergency responders.
    3. DO NOT refuse medical assistance because you believe your neck is only “a little” sore, or you only “bumped” your knee. If you feel pain or discomfort following a collision the safest thing to do is be evaluated by medical personnel.
  1. If you are able to ambulate safely, and exit your vehicle safely (look for other traffic, revisit step 1), make your way out of your vehicle and check on any other vehicles involved in the collision. It is imperative that extreme caution be exercised when exiting your vehicle. Even if there is no oncoming traffic, you will want to be careful not to step on any sharp debris in the roadway, or injure yourself by moving when you should remain stationary.
    1. Confirm whether there are any other injured persons. If there are injuries to persons in other vehicles – call 911 immediately (if you haven’t yet done so).

  1. Call the police (911) if you have not yet done so.
    1. The police will have all drivers fill out an information exchange form that lists insurance information and personal identification information about the vehicles and drivers. An officer will check the identification of any drivers involved in the crash to ensure Driver Bob is really Driver Bob – this may become important later in the process should you need to file an insurance claim.
    2. Based on the seriousness of a crash, they may speak to witnesses, and take statements from those involved.
    3. Keep in mind that in Maryland, police will generally not prepare an actual Collision Report (a more detailed document which will include a finding as to the cause of the collision and who was at “fault”) unless one of two things happen:
      • At least one vehicle needs to be towed from the scene.
      • At least one individual is transported from the scene via ambulance.
  1. If you are not in any immediate danger, and you can do so safely, document the way the vehicles are arranged following the crash by taking video or pictures with your cell phone. This may only be an option if the vehicles are not obstructing traffic, or otherwise cannot be moved. This information will be useful for any future insurance claim.
    1. Take pictures / video of all vehicles if possible.
  1. If the vehicles need to be moved to clear the roadway pull your vehicle to the side of the road.
    1. If you have not yet documented damage to the vehicles do so now.
  1. If you are not planning on calling 911 (absolutely no injuries, and no vehicle needs to be towed) exchange insurance information with all other involved drivers. Write down all of the information on the other driver’s insurance registration form. Write down the license plate number.
  2. Once you have safely exited the scene, report the collision to your vehicle insurance. This can usually be done with a telephone call. It is often a requirement under your insurance contract that you inform your insurer of any motor vehicle collision in which you are involved – it doesn’t matter if the collision was caused by another driver.
    1. You do not have to give a statement to the other driver’s insurance company.
  1. Call an attorney. Personal injury attorneys in Maryland usually offer free consultations to prospective clients. They will be able to evaluate your case and make a determination as to whether you have a viable personal injury or diminished value claim. The Finch Law Offices does not charge for initial consultations.

As you know, much of the above is common sense. But in the chaos of a motor vehicle crash sometimes we are not thinking as clearly as we otherwise would be. Internalizing what steps need to be taken after a crash can maximize your safety and help provide the basis for compensation through an insurance or personal injury claim down the road

The above steps do not constitute legal advice and are not meant to be a comprehensive guide to post-collision action. There are too many variables to be adequately summarized here. However, the tips above will be useful to the majority of persons who find themselves in a motor vehicle collision.