10 Things You Should Never Do After a Car Accident

A crash Ferrari
A crashed Ferrari has to be one of the saddest things you will ever see | Andrew Yates/AFP/Getty Images

The first and only time I was in a car accident, I was about nine years old and sitting in the backseat of a friend of the family’s 1989 Mercury Cougar. It wasn’t one of those massive collisions that puts people in the morgue or hospital, but the Ford Taurus that plowed into the back of us was going fast enough to cause our Van Halen cassette tape to spontaneously eject from the center console. Luckily, I walked away with just a slight case of whiplash. The car’s fate wasn’t as great, though. The Mercury Cougar was replaced by a brand new Camaro T-top.

Fast forward 25 years, and I find that little has changed since that day. Gas prices remain surprisingly low, car inspections in most states remain lax (to say the least), and driver distraction is at an all-time high. Combined, the result is the greatest spike in United States traffic deaths in the last 50 years, and with autonomous cars still in their infancy, everyone is wondering what the solution might be.

Maybe it’s high time we re-evaluated what proper crash etiquette entails, and why as drivers, we all have a responsibility to watch out for our fellow travelers. Too many times have we watched the news only to hear of some poor soul being struck by an oncoming car at the scene of an accident. After a collision, most people go into fight or flight mode, and since they typically aren’t thinking clearly due to shock, common sense doesn’t always come into play right away.

So in order to prevent a bad situation from turning worse, we have come up with 10 things you should never do after an automobile accident. While there are endless other considerations that can be factored into traffic incidents, there’s a lot to be said for keeping a level head. Remembering these 10 things could make all the difference in the world.

1. Don’t leave your car in the road

Subaru accident
A wrecked Subaru sits on the side of the road, waiting to be crushed | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

There’s a reason there are road signs instructing drivers to pull over to the side of the road if no serious injuries occur after an accident. Putting it in park and hopping out into oncoming traffic to inspect the damage is about as foolhardy as it gets. So if you want to keep yourself off the fatality list, move your vehicle to an area that is out of the flow of traffic and call the cops.

2. Forget fleeing the scene

A car accident in Germany
A car accident in Germany showcases what happens when a bad situation turns worse | Nestor Bachmann/AFP/Getty Images

Backing into parked cars, clipping quarter panels in parking lots, and swiping off side mirrors are collisions that often go unreported — at least until someone returns to their vehicle and realizes that it’s been bludgeoned. Don’t run the risk of a camera or someone nearby recording your plate. You’ll probably end up being forced to pay thousands of dollars out of pocket, with the potential of community service and driver school looming in the foreground. Always take responsibility for your actions, and try to avoid being that guy.

3. Attempting to clean up is foolhardy

Crash test with dummy
A crash test shows the bedlam that ensues during a collision | Jean-Francois/AFP/Getty Images

Good intentions be damned. The cops or wrecking crew will come and clean up the mess regardless of what happens. Putting your life on the line in order to clear some debris out of the road will only make a rough situation worse.

4. Never neglect to call 911

A pickup truck bursts into flames on an interstate in northern Kentucky
A pickup truck bursts into flames on an interstate in northern Kentucky | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

This goes hand-in-hand with fleeing the scene. Regardless of how small the incident may be, if there is noticeable damage or pieces of a vehicle lying in the road, the authorities need to be notified. Not reporting a collision in some states can also be counted as an offense. So unless you like the way handcuffs feel outside of the privacy of your motel room, we would suggest you phone the fuzz. Furthermore, an official police report helps establish clarity and accountability.

5. Don’t assume aches and pains are just bruises

Actor Benedict Cumberbatch looking banged up in Doctor Strange
Actor Benedict Cumberbatch looking pretty banged up in Doctor Strange | Marvel

Playing it cool and acting like that neck injury is no big deal may save you a hospital visit and a healthy amount of paperwork right after an accident, but it’s still advisable to consult a physician and get checked out right away. You don’t want a little whiplash and a mild migraine to turn into a debilitating issue.

6. Try not to ignore others

A massive car pileup
A massive car pileup | Scott Olson/Getty Images

Sometimes common courtesy and watching out for your fellow man is all it takes to help turn a bad situation around. Once everyone is safely over to the side of the road, pick up your phone and call the cops. Then go check on the other driver, while staying as far away from traffic as possible in order to keep yourself safe and from ending up as just another statistic. Remember, we’re all in this mess together, and the ability to save another human’s life can often be determined by immediate action.

7. Avoid being confrontational

Fans scuffle and argue outside a stadium
Getting into a confrontation with the other person involved in an accident won’t help the situation | Michael B. Thomas/AFP/Getty Images

Getting aggressive and confronting the other parties involved in an accident (whether it’s their fault or not) will only make matters worse. You already have a hell of a lot of red tape to comb over with your insurance agent after an accident. Don’t add assault and battery charges to the mix.

8. Don’t claim responsibility

Auto accident involving two cars
An auto accident involving two cars leaves the question of who is to blame | iStock.com/RobertCrum

Admitting guilt, regardless of whether it is your fault or not, is a foolish thing to do. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration even urges drivers to refrain from claiming responsibility, and strongly suggests waiting for the authorities to sort things out instead.

9. Take photos for proof

A photographer takes pictures out of the window of his car
Taking pictures of an accident is one of the most important things you can do after a collision, not only for insurance purposes, but as a way to protect yourself | iStock.com/AndreyPopov

Taking pictures of an accident is crucial for guaranteeing that you can back up your side of the story if the other party involved decides to press charges or refuses to admit guilt. Once you know everyone is alright and you’re left waiting on the authorities, take some photos of the scene and be sure to focus on how the collision came to pass if possible.

10. Never hand out personal information

 Lucas Thayer holds his medical marijuana ID card during a demonstration in front of the San Francisco Hall of Justice on July 12, 2005 in San Francisco, California
It doesn’t matter if you show them your driver’s license, email address, or medical marijuana ID card, it’s never a good idea to grant a stranger access to your personal information | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

The only people who should be permitted to jot down your personal information are the authorities. The other party only needs to know your insurance agency’s credentials — and that’s it! Phone numbers, personal addresses, email accounts, and any other information that could turn a minor accident into a series of scary stalking experiences should be avoided at all costs.