Traffic accidents happen. They occur faster than you kissed your Keto diet goodbye last Thanksgiving. Don't hate yourself; the pilgrims did it, too. When you're involved in one, what should you do? Legally, what are your obligations? Most importantly, how do you stay as safe as possible?
There are a few key things to focus on when calling 911. First, where are you? Contrary to popular belief, 911 dispatchers have no magic computer to pinpoint your location if you're calling from a cell phone. If there are injuries, be ready to describe the nature of them. Also, let the dispatcher know how many vehicles are involved and if they're safely out of the roadway. These days, it’s not uncommon to be put on hold when calling 911 – especially during peak call volume times. The thought of being placed on hold when calling for emergency services is concerning enough, but the possibility of having to endure Miley Cyrus singing “Party in the USA” while holding for your call to be taken – absolutely terrifying!
If the vehicles involved are drivable and it's safe to do so, carefully move them out of the roadway. Many mistakenly believe that involved vehicles need to remain where they came to rest during the accident, so that the accident can be efficiently investigated. This isn't true. However, if there are injuries or entrapment, it is best not to move the vehicles unless absolutely necessary for safety reasons.
Did you know if no one is injured and the damage is minor, you likely won't need to involve law enforcement? If the damage appears to be less than $1,000, you may simply exchange information with the other driver. The simplest way is to exchange driver's licenses, insurance and necessary personal information, such as phone numbers. Normally, you can locate these documents in the bottomless pit known as your glove box. It will be somewhere between the plastic flashlight with the corroded batteries and your last 300 Taco Bell receipts.
Take a picture of the other vehicle's damage and its license plate. However, be mindful that accident scenes can be emotional with tested tempers. If the other party involved is uncooperative and you're not able to obtain sufficient information, don't escalate the situation. Call law enforcement for assistance.
I recommend keeping an accident “checklist” with you. In the chaos and confusion immediately after an accident, the likelihood of forgetting to obtain important information from the other driver is extremely high – so make that list! You're not going to make it, are you?
The next step is to notify your insurance company. A representative should report the accident to the Bureau of Motor vehicles on your behalf, but make certain he/she follows through. Another all-too-common scenario is this: Two drivers are involved in a rather minor accident. Both agree there isn't enough damage to involve law enforcement or their respective insurance companies. Driver 1, who has never heard of Keto, but has been hitting the gym more recently (just to get toned, not bulky), goes home and reluctantly shows his wife the damage. She, being a little brighter bulb than him, determines the damage to their vehicle is obviously serious enough to involve their insurance company. Their insurance company reports the accident to BMV on their behalf (including all of Driver 2's information). Driver 2, who thought he had a solid handshake agreement with Driver 1 not to report the accident, has his driver's license suspended for neglecting to report the accident to BMV. Poor guy. Counting carbs is going to be the least of his concerns!
Each year, hundreds of Indiana driver's licenses are suspended for failing to follow through with reporting accidents to the BMV. Don't miss this step!
It's imperative to be truthful regarding the details of any accident you're involved in. You will likely be sharing your recollection of it with several different entities, including law enforcement, insurance companies and BMV. If one of these interests becomes suspicious of your version of the event, it could spell trouble for you.
Drive safely. Your goal is to stay alive in order to enjoy your next diet cheat day! I recommend fettuccine alfredo and cheesecake personally.
Mike Grimes is a veteran police officer, author and freelance writer based in central Indiana. Reach out to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.