California traffic tips: What to do after an auto accident

Knowing what to do in the event of an accident may help California drivers protect themselves and their rights should the worst ever happen.

The California Department of Motor Vehicles reports that there were 3,160 fatal auto accidents and 176,223 injury collisions across the state in 2015 alone. Despite the common occurrence of car crashes, many are of the belief that if they obey the traffic laws and use caution, they will not ever experience a wreck. While taking precautions may help reduce their risk, the danger of motor vehicle collisions may still exist. Knowing what to do in the event of such a harrowing occurrence ahead of time may help motorists to keep their composure, and protect their rights, in the moment.

Stop and assess the situation

Immediately upon colliding with another vehicle, drivers should stop their cars. If it is safe and they are able, they may move out of traffic to avoid causing another accident. Motorists should keep in mind that leaving the scene altogether or failing to notify law enforcement in a specific time period may be considered a hit and run.

After stopping and moving to safety, motorists should determine whether they or their passengers have suffered injuries. Even what seems to be a minor collision may result in bruises, whiplash and other harm. Once they have assessed the condition of those in their vehicles, drivers may check on the occupants of the other involved automobiles.

Notify the authorities

Once people have evaluated the situation, they should contact law enforcement. In many cases, an officer may be sent to the scene to take an accident report and provide assistance. If a report is taken, it is a good idea for people to obtain a copy for their own records. This may be useful should they have to prove fault to the insurance companies or if they choose to take legal action.

Whether the authorities make a report or not, drivers are required to also report crashes resulting in more than $1,000 of damage, personal injury or death. If anyone requires medical aid, people should also call for emergency services.

Document the scene

Even if the accident seems minor at the time and law enforcement take a report, drivers should document the scene themselves. This includes taking pictures of the position of the cars involved, any damage, the scene itself and any visible injuries. People may find such evidence useful when pursuing an insurance settlement or in the event they must take legal action.

Exchange information

For insurance and legal purposes, it is important for the drivers involved in auto accidents to exchange information, including their names, phone numbers, addresses, auto insurance policy details and driver's license numbers. People may also find it helpful to get the contact details for the passengers in the other vehicles involved, as well as for anyone who may have witnessed the collision. When exchanging information, people should avoid admitting fault, signing any statements or release forms, or arguing with the occupants of the other vehicles.

Consult with an attorney

Motor vehicle collisions in California and elsewhere may leave those involved with serious injuries that require extensive medical care, and facing a range of undue expenses. The things people say and do following such wrecks may affect their ability to seek compensation for their losses. Therefore, those who have suffered injuries as a result of auto accidents may benefit from seeking legal guidance. A lawyer may advise them of their options, as well as guide them through the claims process.