What to Do After a Car Accident: A Step-by-Step Guide

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woman standing outside her car after a car accident

Car accidents can happen to anyone — even the most careful drivers. About four people were injured every minute in a traffic crash, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

After a crash, the most important thing to do is check for injuries and make sure you and anyone else involved are safe. You may need to file an insurance claim, so you’ll want to have the best car insurance to protect yourself, other passengers, and your property.

Here are the steps to take if you’re involved in an accident, no matter who’s at fault.

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5 Steps to Take After a Car Accident

Getting into a car accident can be a stressful experience — especially if it’s a serious crash or someone is injured. But after the accident, it’s important to remain calm and follow these five steps:

1. Check for injuries

Car accidents can cause many kinds of injuries, including cuts, broken bones, and whiplash. Depending on the severity of the crash, serious injuries may require urgent medical treatment.

Immediately check yourself and any passengers, including children, seniors, and pets, for any injuries. If you’re able, check on others involved in the crash, such as other drivers or injured bystanders, to see if they need medical care.

Never underestimate an injury, and seek medical care after an accident, in case you need to file a personal injury claim.

2. Get to safety

If your vehicle is drivable, move it out of traffic to the side of the road or a breakdown lane. Turn on your hazard lights and set out flares or emergency triangles to alert other drivers. Make sure that anyone involved in the accident moves to a safe place.

Optional insurance coverage like roadside assistance or rental reimbursement can cover the cost of a tow truck or a rental car if your car isn’t drivable.

3. Call for help

You should dial 911 immediately for emergency assistance if someone is hurt and needs medical attention. You should also call the police if cars or debris are in dangerous positions that could put other drivers at risk. Even if there are no injuries, it can still be a good idea to contact police after a crash to take statements at the accident scene, interview witnesses, and write a formal police report.

A police officer can also help keep the peace if the other driver is uncooperative. Filing a police report may not be legally required in your state, but insurance companies will likely request a copy if you file a claim.

4. Gather evidence and take photos

Documenting all the accident details right away is crucial. Note the location of the crash, time, weather, and any other important details, such as the people and vehicles involved and any witnesses. Take photos or video of injuries as well as vehicle and property damage.

You’ll also want to exchange information with other drivers, like contact information, driver’s license, and car insurance. Be sure to note the license plate number as well as the make, model, and color of the vehicles involved — especially for hit-and-run accidents. If you have certain auto coverages, your insurer can pay for your damages and injuries after a hit-and-run.

5. File a car insurance claim

It’s not always necessary to file an auto claim after an accident. But if your car was damaged or someone was injured, it’s important to let your insurance company know right away — regardless of who’s at fault. To start the insurance claims process, you can often contact your insurance agent by phone, use a mobile app, or go online.

Typically, an insurance adjuster will meet with you to review accident details and assess your vehicle damage. You may also need to speak with the other drivers’ insurance company. Once all the paperwork is completed, you’ll likely receive a claims settlement, which you have the right to appeal if you don’t agree with the amount offered.

But if you’re at fault, don’t have an auto insurance policy, or the accident was a result of vandalism or a natural disaster, the claims process might go a bit differently. Depending on the circumstances, you may consider hiring a car accident lawyer to help protect your legal rights.

Determining Fault for a Car Accident

woman on the phone after auto accident

When an auto accident only involves you and your vehicle, you have the choice of whether or not to file a claim. If you decide to file a claim after the accident, your insurance company’s adjuster will examine the evidence to determine who’s at fault.

When involved, the other drivers’ insurance company might also need to complete its own investigation. If the insurance company determines you’re not at fault, the other drivers’ coverage typically pays for vehicle repairs and medical bills.

But when your vehicle is damaged from a hit-and-run crash, you’ll likely need to use your own collision coverage. In cases where damage wasn’t caused by a collision, like a natural disaster, comprehensive insurance can help cover the cost of repairs or replacement.

What If You Don’t Have Auto Insurance?

rear car damage after accident

Nearly all states require you to have a minimum amount of car insurance coverage. But as many as 12.6% of drivers in the U.S. don’t have coverage, according to the Insurance Information Institute (Triple-I).

If you’re in an accident with a driver who doesn’t have insurance or lacks enough coverage to pay for injuries and damages, uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage (UI/UM) may cover you.

If you’re at fault and don’t have insurance to cover repair and medical costs — or worse, are driving without insurance — you’ll likely end up paying out of pocket. Depending on your state’s laws, you could face fines, jail time, lose your vehicle, or have your license suspended.

Here’s a quick look at what happens in 10 U.S. states if you’re caught driving without car insurance:

State Fines Jail Time License/Registration Suspensions
Arizona Minimum fine of $968.30 N/A Driver’s license and vehicle registration suspension until penalty is paid and proof of insurance is provided, and three-year SR-22 form requirement
California Minimum fine of $100 N/A Vehicle may be impounded
Florida $500 reinstatement fee N/A Driver’s license and license plate suspension for up to three years
Georgia May be required to prepay a six-month insurance policy and additional fines after first offense N/A Mandatory 90-day license suspension after first offense and three-year SR-22A form requirement
Illinois May be required to pay fines and reinstatement fees up to $1,000 N/A License suspension and three-year SR-22A form requirement
New Jersey Minimum $300 fine, plus $250 three-year annual insurance surcharge Possible community service or mandatory 14-day jail term after first offense Nine insurance eligibility points and possible license suspension up to two years
New York Fines up to $1,500, plus $750 penalty fee to reinstate your license N/A Loss of license and registration for at least one year
Pennsylvania May be required to pay a $300 fine, plus registration restoration fees N/A Three-month registration suspension (if $300 fine isn’t paid), plus proof of insurance requirement to regain registration
Texas Minimum $175 fine unless the court determines you’re unable to pay, plus $250 surcharge for up to three years N/A Driver’s license and vehicle suspension after first offense unless unless you show proof of financial responsibility for two years after the conviction date, plus 180-day impoundment at a rate of $15 per day
Virginia $500 uninsured motorist fee, plus driver’s license and license plate reinstatement fees N/A Driver’s license and registration suspension until fees are paid, plus three-year SR-22 form requirement

Getting adequate coverage that meets your state’s minimum requirements is critical, as penalties for driving without car insurance vary widely between states. From fines and reinstatement fees to suspensions and SR-22 requirements, driving without car insurance could lead to serious consequences — even jail time.

If you’re unsure about what your state requires, call your insurance agent or state’s department of motor vehicles.

FAQs About What to Do After a Car Accident

Car accidents can be overwhelming — from worrying about your insurance rates going up to knowing what to do if you’re the victim of a hit-and-run accident. Here are some commonly asked questions about what to do after an accident.

Can you get car insurance after a car accident?

Yes. You can get car insurance after an accident, but you can’t use the coverage to pay for the accident that just happened. Your new policy only applies to future auto accidents.

Keep in mind that if you’re at fault in a serious car accident like a DUI or fatal crash or have many accidents on your record, your insurance company may drop your coverage, and you’ll have to apply for high-risk car insurance.

Will your auto insurance rates go up after an accident?

It’s possible. The average auto insurance rates increase by 44% after an at-fault accident, according to Compare.com data. But the exact rate increase depends on different factors, such as who’s at fault and the severity of the accident.

If you have accident forgiveness coverage, you may be able to avoid a rate increase.

How do insurance companies evaluate vehicle damage?

Insurance companies use an insurance adjuster to evaluate vehicle damage and calculate the repair costs after an accident.

Do you have to file a claim for minor car accidents?

It depends — state requirements for reporting accidents can vary. You may not need to file an auto claim if you get into a minor accident that only involves your vehicle.

For example, let’s say you back into your mailbox and break a tail light. In situations like these, it may be cheaper to pay for the repair yourself instead of filing a claim.

Do insurers cover hit-and-run accidents?

Yes. But your insurer may only cover a hit-and-run accident if you have coverages such as collision, uninsured motorist, medical payments (MedPay), and personal injury protection (PIP).

Depending on your policy, your insurer can pay for vehicle repairs, medical bills, and lost wages after a hit-and-run.


  1. NHTSA, “Traffic Safety Facts,” accessed February 23, 2024.
  2. National Safety Council, “Injury Facts: Overview,” accessed February 23, 2024.



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