Article By: Alice Brookston
We were driving up through the mountains on Highway 20, listening to “Bring It On Home To Me” by Sam Cook and the next thing I knew, every air bag in my mom’s car went off and we found ourselves steering towards the side of a mountain into a ditch. I hadn’t completely known what had happened, and was only afterwards informed by my mom that we had been hit by a van coming down the mountain who had slid into our lane on a blind curve, crashing into our car head on.
Luckily, everyone was okay, but the event itself was admittedly quite terrifying and stressful. On New Year’s Eve we had been left on the side of a mountain with a totaled car and not the slightest clue of what to do other than make sure we were safe and to call 991. So, what is it that you’re supposed to do if you find yourself in a car accident? It depends on the severity of the accident, but there are still some basic steps that can prepare you for this frankly quite common situation.
First, make sure that you and any passengers in the car are safe, and not severely injured. If someone is injured, they may not feel as much pain as they normally would since they still might be in shock.
Next, depending on the severity of the crash, call 9-1-1. If anyone is injured, trapped inside their vehicle, or are stuck and blocking traffic, it is extremely important that you call emergency services immediately to transport those involved to hospitals. Emergency services can also help with traffic regulation and towing the cars involved. If this is not the case, do not call 9-1-1, but do get your information, and start with insurance matters.
Try to get out of the car if there is somewhere safe that you can be on the side of the road without running the risk of getting hit. If the crash was bad enough for the airbags in your car to go off, it’s crucial that you try to open doors because the smoke from the explosion of the airbags will likely send you into a further state of panic if you’re not aware of it. Be aware that the doors may be heavier because of the exploded airbags.
Try to get any necessary items out of the car such as phones, registration and insurance papers, purses/wallets, and water and a blanket or jacket if it is available to help with the initial shock of the situation.
By now, emergency services will have showed up, and likely an ambulance too. The medical personnel will ask you some questions about your physical state (you may have no visible wounds, but may have suffered a head injury depending on the severity of the crash), but take into account that you may not be aware of physical pain if you are still in shock and hopped up on adrenaline.
They will still go through all of the precautions and if they deem that you need to be further checked out, they may send you to the hospital. If you are a minor, a parent or legal guardian will have to sign off to signify whether they think you should go to the hospital.
Now, this is where some of the more complicated things start to happen. Insurance matters. If you can talk to the other party involved, get their name, number, address, driver’s license, license plates, identification for the vehicle and the vehicle’s registration. If you are not able to get these at the scene, (the other party is not available for reasons such as being taken to the hospital), then don’t worry. The CHP officer at the scene will get this information for a police report, but this extends the process. If you’re lucky, you’ll receive this information within a week or two, but it can take up to thirty days.
Next, there are going to be some people you need to call. Try to dial a trusted family member, friend, or anyone else who can come pick you up and or help get important information at the scene. Additionally, you need to inform your insurance company of the crash: give them the basic logistics: the location, severity, how the accident happened, state of the car, and anything else that might be pertinent to move the grueling process along.
If you are able to, try to take pictures of the damage on not only your own but the other party’s vehicle. This will greatly help insurance have a better idea of how to proceed. It is always better to have more rather than less when it comes to images and to be thorough by displaying the entirety of the car and its damage.
By now in the process, emergency services will likely have cleared up the scene, but before they leave, make sure to gather two very valuable pieces of information. The contact information for the CHP officer at the scene (if he hasn’t already, he will need to take statements of what happened, and he will also be your gateway to getting the police report once it’s released), and find out where emergency services are towing your vehicle if that is the case. Once you know where they are taking it to, it will make it much easier to either receive forgotten items from your car, take pictures of the cars if you were not able to earlier, or simply find out the costs of the damage, and whether it is still drivable and such.
As of now, you will likely be dialing insurance, police, and parties involved back and forth and will be discussing whose insurance will cover what. This will be grueling, and frankly quite frustrating to go through, but it is also essential to determine how much you or the other party will have to pay, how the crash will affect your future insurance costs, and overall what to do about your car.
This process will likely take up to a few weeks or even months, and yes, it admittedly is one of the least enjoyable aspects of car accidents, but without it, most people wouldn’t have the slightest idea what to do in this situation besides the basics.
Finally, at the end of all of this, there is something desperately important that you do. Once you are able to go home, unwind and just breathe. Car accidents are unarguably stressful, scary, overwhelming, and for some, even traumatic. Let yourself do whatever it is that will help you feel better. Put on a favorite movie, take a bath, call a friend, or let it all out by crying.
Car accidents are completely normal and happen every day. The process after getting into a car accident, though, is anything but normal, or easy. Be prepared for the possibility that one day this could happen to you. Knowing what to do and where to start will help you along throughout the confusing process.