The unfortunate reality in today’s world is that there is a very good chance that you, a family member, or someone you love will be involved in a car accident. There are so many cars on the road full of distracted drivers who are texting, talking on cell phones, drinking alcohol, or simply not paying attention or following the rules of the road that the likelihood of a car accident is greatly increased. Statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reveal that in 2012, motor vehicle crashes and fatalities increased after six years of declining fatalities on our nation’s highways (www.nhtsa.gov/NCSA). The United States suffered more than 33,000 fatalities on the roadways. Traffic fatalities due to alcohol-impaired driving crashes totaled more than 10,000. In Massachusetts alone, there were several hundred fatalities on the road and countless injuries.
Texting and driving has likely been the cause of increased car accidents and fatalities. According to the National Safety Council, there are nearly two million accidents per year as a result of texting while driving (www.textinganddrivingsafety.com). The Harvard Center for Risk Analysis Study revealed that texting and driving cause 330,000 injuries per year. Nearly 25% of all car accidents are the result of texting while driving!
What these numbers reveal is that, with all the distractions facing drivers, the likelihood of being in a car accident has dramatically increased. Therefore, it is best to be prepared. While this list is not exhaustive, it will give you at least some ammunition to prepare yourself for the eventuality that you may be in an accident.
Always wear a seatbelt
We cannot emphasize this enough. It seems so obvious, but there are times when many of us don’t wear a seatbelt. Sometimes, you might be making a quick trip to the store. Other times, you might be sitting in the back seat of a car and not be worried about a seatbelt. While it is true that seatbelt use has risen over the last few years due to better enforcement and education, not wearing a seatbelt leads to more severe injuries and fatalities due to ejection (www.cdc.gov/motorvehiclesafety/). The bottom line is that you should always wear a seatbelt, no matter where you are sitting in a vehicle and no matter how long or how short the travel time.
After an accident occurs:
Make sure everyone is safe
After a collision, the very first thing you need to do is make sure that you, your passengers, and anyone else involved in the collision are OK. Does anyone need immediate medical attention? Are the cars stopped in a dangerous place on the road? Is there anything about the situation that needs immediate attention and action? A motor vehicle accident can cause life-threatening injuries or can place you, your passengers, or the other vehicle’s occupants in a precarious position on the roadway that could cause further harm. It is imperative that the first thing you do is make sure that everyone is safe.
Call the police
If you or anyone involved in a car accident is hurt, even if the injury seems minor, the police should be called. The police are trained to investigate car accidents and to help sort out what happened. Oftentimes, people will tell the police what happened, and their versions will be documented in a police report. Further, the police can help with the exchange of critical information such as drivers’ names, addresses, and insurance information. Additionally, the police can cite drivers, provide written warnings, or even make arrests if necessary. All this information can become incredibly important if a driver later decides to change his or her story when reporting it to an insurance company. Insurance companies are quick to believe whatever story most helps them save money and will use their insured’s story, even if it conflicts with what the insured may have told the police at the accident scene.
Whether the police come to the scene or not, it is imperative that you document as much as you can about the other driver and the facts of the accident. Memories fade and people can be less than truthful if they feel that they may have been the cause of an accident and injuries. Insist on getting the driver’s name, address, driver’s license number, car make and model, and license plate number. If the driver refuses to provide that information and the police are not available, do not engage the other driver. Simply write down his or her license plate number and the make and model of the vehicle. If you have a camera or one on your smartphone, take pictures of the cars. Document where the accident happened, what time of day it is, and whether there were any traffic controls. If there are any witnesses, get their names and phone numbers. Their versions of the accident are often the most helpful, as independent witnesses have no stake in the outcome of the case – their versions will often be used by the insurance companies when there is a difference of opinion between the drivers as to what happened in the accident.
You can download a helpful accident reporting form from the Mazow|McCullough, PC website at www.helpinginjured.com.
Report the accident
You should report the accident to your insurance company as soon as possible. Your insurance policy requires that you cooperate with them and report the accident as soon as you can. In Massachusetts, you should also prepare an Operator’s Report, which needs to be sent to the police department of the city or town where the accident happened, the Registry of Motor Vehicles, and the insurance company. An Operator’s Report can be picked up at any police station or can be downloaded at www.massrmv.com/rmv/forms/21278.pdf.
Notify the insurance company
If you’ve been hurt, you should notify your insurance company that you and any passengers have been injured.