In even the most minor auto accidents, it's normal for tensions to run high. You might experience a rush of adrenaline as a result of the incident, or you might even be in a state of shock. In fact, experts suggest that posttraumatic stress disorder or anxiety can persist up to one whole year after your accident. Regardless, it's a pretty safe assumption that most people aren't in the best state of mind in the minutes immediately after their car wreck.
That's why it is critical that you rehearse how to handle yourself after an auto accident before you're in that situation. With a proper plan in mind, you can put yourself in the best possible position to protect your rights and to not assume any undue liability for the incident.
Before the Police Arrive
Depending on the nature of the accident, it's normal to check on the operator(s) of the other vehicle(s) involved in the accident. You'll want to make sure that everyone is physically safe and that no one requires immediate medical attention. Also, if you need to coordinate a place to pull your vehicles out of the flow of traffic while awaiting the first responders, that's appropriate to do.
However, your interactions with the other parties should end there. Do not, under any circumstances, discuss the incidents leading up to the accident. The last thing you want to do is say something inaccurate that can show up on the police report through their testimony. On top of that, since the situation is such an intense one, even a simple little conversation could become heated at any point.
The best way to accomplish this is to rehearse your exit line. After you've checked to make sure everyone is safe, you should excuse yourself to gather your insurance information and to take photos of your vehicle—if you have a phone or camera on you. These are valuable things to accomplish, and you'll avoid any unnecessary conversation.
After the Police Arrive
Once the police arrive, they will take control of the scene. You won't have to worry about positioning yourself away from any of the other involved motorists—the officer will likely ensure that happens for everyone's well being. You will, however, be asked to give your testimony regarding the events that led up to the accident so that the officer can complete their report and issue any appropriate citations.
Bar none, the most important thing to remember is that you do not have to give information to the police officer at this time. All you are required to present is your driver's license, vehicle registration number, and your insurance information. If you find yourself completely shaken up or unable to clearly recall the events leading up to the wreck, simply state to the officer that you do not wish to give a statement. You can always tell your side of the story at a later date, if necessary.
If you choose to give a statement—which is usually a good idea if you can do so effectively—be sure to stick to the concrete details that you remember completely. Remember, the officer is trying to determine both the causes of the accident and the laws that may have been broken. Statements that change or that contradict what the other motorists state might give the officer cause to investigate your role more closely. That said, don't be afraid to state the facts of the situation clearly and confidently, as long as you are in a state of mind to do so.
Take a few minutes every so often to rehearse these procedures in your head before you drive to work or over a lunch break. You never know when you might find yourself in an auto accident, and proper preparation can often make the difference between a smooth experience and a messy insurance claim or lawsuit.