In the adrenaline-fueled moments after an accident, actions you don't take sometimes matter as much as those you do. Whether you're a seasoned driver or a newly licensed teen, knowing what to do minute-by-minute can make a bad situation bearable. But even if you don't make all the right moves, at least don't make the wrong ones.
Here are the top eight things you DON'T want to do:
If you're involved in an accident, however minor, you're required to stop and exchange information with the other driver(s) or, if you hit an unattended car in a parking lot, leave your contact information if you can't find the other driver. Simply driving off constitutes hit and run, which is illegal in all 50 states. After an accident, call the police and stay on the scene until they arrive, even if it's on private property. If no injuries are involved, an officer may not be able to respond. The police dispatcher will instruct you what to do next.
2) Delay calling medical aid.
Washington and Oregon law require you to call 9-1-1 to get medical assistance immediately if someone is injured or they're asking for help. Both Washington and Oregon have Good Samaritan Laws to protect you from liability when you're trying to do the right thing by rendering emergency aid.
3) Linger in the roadway.
If your car is drivable, move it as far off the road as possible so you're not in danger of being hit again. All drivers should stand well away from traffic when exchanging information to minimize the chance they'll be hit by a passing car. Only if it's SAFE to do so, before moving the car, use your smartphone to take photos or video of the scene showing the cars in their original positions following the accident. That will help with the accident investigation, especially if there are conflicting stories. Capture license plate numbers if you can (useful if one of the drivers takes off before exchanging information).
4) Admit or assign blame.
Let the police and insurance companies sort it out. Don't gush apologies or yell at a driver you believe to be at fault. You can discuss fault with the officer at the scene, but stick to the facts (rather than speculating) when relaying what happened.
5) Rely on your memory.
Your smartphone camera is invaluable! Things that seem obvious at the time – even the color of the other car involved – can easily be forgotten in the tidal wave of emotion during and after an accident. Use your smartphone to record as much detail as possible, including pictures of driver's licenses of all involved, auto insurance cards, cars showing the damage, the location and weather conditions.
6) Try to "hide" the accident.
Teens, in particular, may be tempted to keep parents or PEMCO in the dark about exactly what happened. This is no time to worry about getting in trouble. Being forthcoming with details will aid the investigation and may prevent you from being blamed for an accident that wasn't 100% your fault (remember, two sides to every story!). Parents can be a tremendous source of support. And even if the teen was at fault and rates go up, it's something you can discuss and handle as a family.
7) Skip the police report.
Unless the officer made a report at the scene, you must complete one if anyone was injured or damages appear to exceed $1,000 in Washington or $2,500 in Oregon. Go online to complete a Vehicle Collision Report in Washington or a Traffic Accident and Insurance Report in Oregon. You also can visit your local police station to get a form.
8) Fail to notify us if injuries are involved.
Even if the cars are undamaged (or damage is so minor it's not worth it to turn in a claim), tell us about any accident if injuries are involved. Your PEMCO insurance offers important legal protection in case that stiff neck the other driver shrugged off at the accident scene mushrooms into something later. You can report an accident to PEMCO 24 hours a day at 1-800-GO-PEMCO or online with your pemco.com account.