A couple of weeks ago, I was in a car accident. I'm fine, the guy who hit me is fine, his car is basically fine, my car is not, but cars are fixable and replaceable and people aren't, so in the grand scheme of things, everything is going to be OK.
The insurance companies are duking things out, and we're looking to see what we can afford (my minivan was totaled). But while I wait for more information about the value of my van (or lack thereof), I thought I'd share a few tips for making sure things go smoothly after an accident. These were posted at The 36-Hour Day last week:
1.) Get out your business card. I keep a couple of business cards in my glove compartment, not because I get into lots of accidents (I don't), but because there are times when I need to give out my information quickly and I'm the type of person who only has dead pens, melted crayons, and broken pencils in the car at all times. And no paper.
2.) Make a phone call or send a text message as soon as you can. You shouldn't be on the phone while you're driving, of course (think of it this way: Would you want the other driver's insurance company to subpoena your phone records? So, hang up and drive). After I was hit, but before I got out of my car, I left a message for my husband, which also made note of the time of the accident.
3.) Take pictures. You may have a fantastic memory, but when the adrenaline is pumping and tension is sky-high, your memory can't be trusted. Besides, who wants to get into a your-word-against-his argument with the insurance companies? Once you've made sure everyone involved is OK, whip out your cell phone and start taking pictures. I photographed the other car's license plate and the emblem (so I'd have proof of the make and model) before I even got out of my car, just in case the guy tried to speed away (he didn't; he was really nice). After we traded information, I took pictures of the damage to my car, the intersection where the accident occured (to record the street name and weather conditions), and the damage to his car. I even took a picture of the information he'd scribbled down on a piece of paper for me.
It took seconds to do, and the next day, while talking to his and my insurance companies, I was glad I had the photos. Turns out I had incorrectly remembered the names of the streets at the intersection, and the piece of paper from the other guy had gotten wet in the rain -- it was nearly impossible to read what he had written down in sky-blue ink, but in the photo, it was all still clear.
4.) Use the internet to your advantage. I replayed the event over and over in my head that night and the next morning, trying to figure out what, if anything, I had done wrong. I remembered stopping at the stop sign; I didn't remember seeing the other car. Was it because of the rainy weather? Were his headlights not on? Did I look too quickly? I finally turned to Google Maps, where a set of satellite photos filled in the missing pieces: When stopped properly at the stop sign, a building obscures the view of the lane in which the other car was traveling. I printed out the birds-eye-view photos and the street-view photos, for my files. Coupled with the photo I took of the accident site at the time, it's an accurate record of the scene.
5.) Provide plenty of information. You pay insurance premiums for a reason, so let the insurance company do its job. Don't argue with the other driver, don't try to help him or her figure out who was at fault, and don't try to patch up any damage to your car. But it's fine to send your claim adjuster all the information you've gathered, including copies of the photos, a longer written statement, and any contact information you have for the other driver.
On the down side: My left shoulder hurts, my minivan was totaled, and we're down to a single car for more than a few days, which makes my work-life juggle exponentially trickier. But on the plus side: My husband and I commuted to work together last week for the first time in ages, and the uninterrupted, child-free, one-on-one time gave us an opportunity to reconnect and enjoy each other's company. So, that's something positive, right?
Readers, share your wisdom: What advice would you give to someone who's just been in a fender bender?