Not too long ago my son was bicycling to work on a Saturday morning and was hit by a car. He was crossing an intersection with our local Dillon’s and an employee leaving work didn’t see him. Isaac rolled off the hood of the car and broke his arm either when he hit the car or the pavement on the other side. His bike was totaled. The driver rolled down his window and asked Isaac if he was alright. Isaac, in shock, said he seemed to be intact, and the driver went on his way. Isaac caught a ride to work with one of the witnesses to the accident. Once his co-workers took one look at him, they recognized the signs of shock. They set him down, called the police, and we arrived a few minutes later, tipped off by my dad who had witnessed the entire exchange.
Isaac was 20 years old at the time. The driver was also in his 20s. Neither one of them understood how the situation should have been handled because neither one of them had been in this situation before. While accidents can happen at any time of year, winter poses a heightened set of risks. As cold weather kicks into high gear and roads get risky, remember these tips in case you too are involved in an accident. No point in all of us learning the same lessons the hard way, so let my family experiences serve as your cautionary tale.
1. STOP! Whether you nicked another car’s bumper pulling out of a parking space or tapped the car in front of you at a stop sign, even if it seems so minor it’s hardly noticeable, you need to stop your car. Get out and assess the situation from OUTSIDE OF YOUR RESPECTIVE CARS. You can’t tell from 10 seconds spent inside your car exactly what has happened. Stepping outside your car and meeting the other driver is not an admission of guilt, it’s the beginning of a solution.
2. Figure out whether anyone is hurt. You could be sore but not injured. See if you can figure out whether or not you or the other driver needs immediate medical care. This matters in step #3. Even if you don’t need an ambulance at the scene, you might want to go get checked out later anyway. For Isaac, his arm hurt, his whole body ached, but he didn’t really know how much until 24 hours later, when he finally went to the emergency room.
3. Call 911. It’s scary. We’ve been trained that 911 is for dire emergencies. It is. It’s also for any time there’s an accident. Go ahead and call 911 even if no one is bleeding and everyone is upright. The police have specially trained eyes for this sort of thing. Let them do their job.
4. Leave your cars as is. Unless your cars are causing major traffic blockage/danger to other drivers, do not move your car. Let the police access your accident and tell you when it’s safe to move your car.
5. DO NOT LEAVE THE SCENE. While technically neither Isaac nor the other driver “left the scene” neither one of them stuck around or called the police at the actual scene of the accident. While the police were involved, they were unable to see the accident scene or talk to both parties at the time of the accident. They didn’t catch up with the other driver until days later. Because he rolled down his window and asked how Isaac was doing, he wasn’t given a ticket for leaving the scene — this was never considered a hit and run. Since Isaac was in shock, he didn’t understand exactly how hurt he was. They both should have stopped and called the police immediately and let the police talk them through the rest of the steps.
6. Exchange insurance information. Make sure you have the driver’s name, insurance agency name, and pertinent phone numbers. Again, this is not an admission of guilt. In fact, everyone involved should avoid claiming responsibility all together. Let the police and insurance figure that out. But everyone needs to let their insurance company know about the accident and all the parties involved.
7. Take pictures of the scene. Get photos before you move the cars and then of all the damage at the scene. Also, get information from any witnesses, including any photos they might have taken. Witnesses are important, not only for the police report but sometimes might be important to insurance companies later on.
8. Call your insurance agent. Whether at the scene or immediately following, be sure to let your insurance agent know you’ve been involved in an accident and follow their instructions. You will likely be contacted by the insurance company from the other driver. Do not admit fault or discuss guilt. Oftentimes, we can feel bad for being in an accident and maybe even feel guilty even when we didn’t do anything wrong! Just stick to the facts or simply refer them back to your insurance company for comment. You don’t have to talk to anyone or ever feel uncomfortable.
This is not an exhaustive list. If any of you are insurance agents or work with law enforcement, please offer your suggestions for all of us in the comments below. My wish is for you to make it through this wintery season with your car/bicycle/person intact and unscathed. Be defensive, don’t be aggressive, and keep these tips in your back pocket just in case you need them. Be careful out there.