A couple weeks ago, I was in a car accident. With my three year old.
Car accidents are scary.
Car accidents with your child are terrifying.
We are always aware that an accident could happen to us at any time. We have basic knowledge in the back of our mind of what to do, but until you are in that situation, you never are truly prepared.
My dad always taught me the basics: exchange information, never drive off, call the police if needed, make sure everyone is okay. That’s a good start, but there are so many more details. When you have just had an accident, and all that adrenaline is pumping through your system, it can be overwhelming trying to process every step.
I won’t go into details of my incident, but I will share with you some of my experience and some things that I learned (and a few things I actually knew) from this accident.
** Disclaimer: I am only sharing my personal experience. I’m not a lawyer. I may have worked for some in my past; however, I am not offering any legal advice or direction of any kind.**
What to Do When You Have Been in a Car Accident
- BE PREPARED: Hindsight is 20/20. Make sure your required documents for driving are ALWAYS in your glove box (registration, insurance card). Keep paper and pen in there too. It’s important to keep an emergency kit in your car at all times. Find space for it in your backseat instead of the trunk, because you may not be able to get into your trunk.
- TRY TO NOT TENSE UP: Easier said than done, right? If you know impact is about to happen, try not to tense up. I know I tensed up, it’s human nature. I saw what was about to happen, and I felt my hands grip that steering wheel tight. Tensing up is what causes MORE muscular injuries.
- REMAIN CALM AFTER IMPACT: Breathe. Another one that’s easier said than done. My first reaction, after impact, was to cry. And I did. That’s okay. It’s scary. But when I cried, so did my boy. Because mommy was scared. And he doesn’t know what to do when he sees mommy like that. As soon as I realized I had made him cry, I stopped. I calmed down. I pulled myself together and I moved on to the next step.
- DO NOT LEAVE THE ACCIDENT SCENE: This is kind of a no-brainer but do not leave the scene of the accident. If the other vehicle does leave, try to get their license plate number as fast as you can.
- MAKE SURE EVERYONE IN THE CAR IS OKAY: Check yourself first. You are important; if you are injured or further injure yourself, you are no help to anyone! I appeared intact. My airbags did not deploy. My seat belt was on. I had not hit my head, and nothing hit my body. Once I knew I was okay, I turned and made sure my boy was okay. He was in his car seat, a five point harness, and he appeared unharmed. Nothing had hit him.
- MOVE TO SAFETY: My first mistake was getting out of my vehicle right away. I had pulled my car slightly into the left breakdown lane, but we were still partially blocking traffic. The driver of the other car asked if I could move ahead into the grass so he could get his car out of the road and into a safe area. The left breakdown lane is NOT the best place to be. If you can move to the right breakdown lane, do so IF IT IS SAFE. We finally did move to the right breakdown lane once the police had arrived. If you have cones or flares in your car, you could also put those out. Once your car is safe, turn off your engine and put on your hazard lights.
- GET YOUR BEARINGS: Know where you are. The first question I was asked when I called 911 (see below) was my location. And on a busy highway, I had no idea. I could just barely make out a mile marker at the overpass ahead, but I could not see the number. The dispatcher must have pinged my phone, because they were able to locate me. It helps to give them a precise location (saying you’re on a highway doesn’t help).
- CALL 911: Even in a minor accident, consider calling 911. In fact, in some states it is required that you call 911 after an auto accident. If anyone is injured, if you need a tow truck, or if you are stuck on a busy highway in the left breakdown lane, you should call for help. I also made the call because I had a child in my car. Even if there were no major injuries or damage, you don’t know the other driver personally. In my accident, the other driver was fortunately very reasonable and easy to work with. But having the police present will ensure an accurate report is made. Never feel bad if you decide to call 911. You were just in a car accident; it’s scary and it’s a serious matter.
- MAKE SURE EVERYONE ELSE IS OKAY: Regardless of who hit who, this accident involved more than just your vehicle. Take a moment and make sure the other driver (and his passengers) are okay and that no one has been injured.
- LEAVE YOUR CHILDREN IN THE CAR: I made the mistake of taking my very hot, very upset child out of the car. Big no-no. And the police officer let me know that. The safest place he could be was strapped in his car seat in the car. It’s also important to keep your child in the vehicle because you never know if they may have an injury that you cannot see. Wait for the police to check them out and determine if they need medical treatment.
- EXCHANGE INFORMATION WITH THE OTHER DRIVER(S): While you are waiting for the police to arrive (or if you decide not to call them), exchange information with the driver(s). Make sure you know what your registration card looks like. Make sure you know what your insurance card looks like. Those two documents, along with your driver’s license, are what you’ll want to exchange. You’ll want to grab some paper and a pen (ALWAYS KEEP PAPER AND A PEN IN YOUR CAR), and write down the other driver’s name, address, license number, date of birth, license plate, year/make/model of the vehicle, his insurance company name, policy number, the insurance company’s address and phone number. Note where the damage is on BOTH cars. Also try to make a note of where the accident occurred and how it happened. If you can take pictures of the damage, that helps too. Make sure to also get the names of all passengers in the other vehicles as well. The police will make a report as well, which will have most of this information on it, but make sure you take your own notes.
- DO WHAT THE POLICE OFFICER TELLS YOU: By now, the cops have arrived, and they will be ready to take over the situation. Let them. If they want you to move your car (and it’s still drivable), do so. Give them all the documents they ask for. Give them an accurate description of what occurred. Do get the officer’s name for your records. The officer(s) will call in tow trucks and an ambulance as needed. They will also need some time to process the paperwork. Follow their guidance; they know what they are doing!
- ACCEPT AN AMBULANCE IF YOU NEED ONE: Don’t be a hero. If you are hurt, accept the ambulance. If your child is injured, accept the ambulance. It’s scary to go to the hospital but if you think you are injured, go. If you decide to not take the ambulance, but do go to the hospital on your own, make sure you report that to the police officer that same day so he can make a note on his police report. You’ll also want to make sure you notify your insurance company that you were seen at a hospital. Never second guess yourself. If something hurts, get it checked out THAT DAY.
- CALL YOUR EMERGENCY CONTACT: When you are safely able to make a phone call, call for support. After I placed the call to 911, I was able to call my husband. You may have to wait to make that call once the police arrive, but try to get a hold of your emergency contact. My husband reminded me of a few details that I had forgotten. He also was able to leave work so he could meet up with me (I was over an hour away from home). And he also made sure that my son and I were okay, and that we did not need an ambulance.
- TALK TO WITNESSES: Honestly, this one is tough because people just don’t stop for accidents anymore. In our situation, it wasn’t safe for anyone to stop (we were on a highway). If you do have any witnesses, make sure to get their information.
- WAIT FOR PERMISSION FROM THE POLICE TO LEAVE: Once you are given the okay to leave by the cop (and you have received a copy of the police report), if you can drive your car and feel comfortable doing so, leave. If you have not met up with your emergency contact yet, make sure you have a place to do that.
- FEED YOUR CHILDREN AND GIVE THEM A CHANCE TO GO THE BATHROOM: This seems obvious, but with a potty training child in my backseat, I kind of forgot to give him the chance to sit on a potty (it didn’t help that it was stuck in my crushed trunk). So he had accidents in his pull-up. And they get hungry; so if you have a snack in the car, give that to them as soon as you can. (Or when you arrange to meet up with your spouse/family member, meet them at a place with food.)
- SEEK MEDICAL TREATMENT: If you chose not to accept the ambulance, and decide to self-treat, do so as soon as possible after the accident. My husband and I decided to take our son to the children’s hospital (versus a regular hospital) just to have him checked out. After his visit, we brought him home to stay with his grandparents, while I headed to a different hospital. At the hospital, it helps to have your auto insurance card on you so they can process the ER visit with them. Save all your documents from the hospital, as well as any receipts for prescriptions. Make sure to continue to monitor your child, and yourself, after the accident for further issues. It can sometimes take days before symptoms appear; make sure you know what to watch for and follow all medical advice given to you by the hospital or doctor. If you do go to a hospital, make sure you follow up with your primary care physician and your child’s pediatrician.
- CONTACT YOUR INSURANCE COMPANY: At any point following the accident, you should get in touch with your auto insurance company. The police officer at my accident gave us the advice to take care of ourselves first: get home, eat, settle down, AND THEN call the insurance company. Most are open 24/7 so you can call at midnight like I did. I waited until we were all home from the hospital and I was sitting on the couch in my jammies. Because this is a long phone call. They will ask for a lot of details, and you’ll want to make sure you have all of your notes, the police report, and your insurance information in front of you before you start that phone call. Make sure to keep track of all your documents and keep thorough notes during the entire claim process. They’ll also start the process on getting repairs done on your car and getting you a rental car if needed. Once all the paperwork is processed with the insurance company, you’ll be able to get your car repaired (or replaced if necessary). Also, make sure to find out if your insurance carrier will be working with the other driver’s insurance, or if you need to contact them directly.
- CONTACT THE LOCAL POLICE TO REPORT THE ACCIDENT: Make sure you follow the correct steps for reporting the accident, per local laws. In my situation, the accident occurred in Massachusetts. I was required to file a Crash Report with the Massachusetts DMV within five days of the accident. In Connecticut, you are required to report the accident to the local police. Make sure you follow the appropriate laws and complete all the necessary paperwork after the accident.
- REPLACE YOUR CAR SEAT: Under certain circumstances, you will want to find out if you should get a new car seat. The car seat is technically part of the car when you have an accident. Certain conditions will warrant a new car seat. You will want to defer to the car seat manufacturer to find out if they suggest replacement. Most auto insurers will replace the car seat without question, but more information can be found here regarding car seat replacement.
- MOVE FORWARD: Hopefully, there are no major injuries or health issues that you have to deal with. Seek legal help as needed. It’ll be good to be back to normal so you can go on with your life.
Going through a car accident is terrifying, especially when your children are in the car. Be prepared as much as possible. Remember to keep calm and try to follow these steps as best as you can. You will forget things; you may forget to feed your child a snack or ask if they need a potty, you may realize halfway through things that you yourself have to use the potty. It’s a very tense time; just do what you can to keep your family safe. My incident was considered “minor”. In instances where there are major injuries or damage to the vehicle(s), make sure to only do what is safe for yourself and your passengers.
Personally, I am glad that no one was seriously injured during my accident. I am patiently waiting to get this claim processed, and I’ll be happy when I can finally drive my car again!
For more complete information on what to do if you have a car accident, check out State Farm’s Guide found here.
For car accidents in Connecticut, refer to the Connecticut DMV.
For car accidents in Massachusetts, refer to the Massachusetts DMV.