Getting into a car accident can be very upsetting, but it's important to remain calm following a crash and avoid saying or doing anything that could cause you problems later on.
Immediately after an accident, you may be in a state of shock. You also may feel overwhelmed at the thought of getting your car repaired, finding alternative transportation or facing possible traffic citations.
You'll do a better job of coping if you develop a plan ahead of time. Here are six car-accident mistakes you should never make.
1. Never apologize.
It may seem rude, but you should never apologize for an accident, even if it seems like the right thing to do. If you apologize, the other driver may say you accepted responsibility, says Carole Walker, executive director of the Rocky Mountain Insurance Information Association.
So what should you do? Walker says your insurer will conduct its own investigation into the cause of the accident.
"Let your insurance company and law enforcement make those determinations," she says.
2. Don't leave the scene of an accident.
If you're feeling frightened or confused following a crash, you may be tempted to leave the accident scene. Resist the urge to do so.
Fleeing the scene of a collision is against the law. It could result in fines or charges. For example, in Missouri, leaving the scene of an accident is considered a felony if the crash resulted in physical injuries or caused property damage in excess of $1,000.
Kevin Foley, a New Jersey insurance agent, recommends you stay at the accident scene until the police have arrived and taken a statement.
If you live in a community where police won't respond because you were involved in a noninjury accident, make sure you exchange insurance information with the other driver and file a police report afterward, Walker says.
3. Don't forget to take photographs.
Today, with the widespread use of smartphones, most drivers have access to a camera. After your accident, take photos of the vehicles involved in the accident from several angles. This will help your insurance claims adjuster see where the accident occurred and the damage that was caused.
If you're worried the other driver may leave the scene without exchanging insurance information, photograph the other car's license plate, Foley says.
4. Don't lose your temper.
After a car crash, never allow yourself to be provoked into an altercation. Coming home with a black eye or getting arrested for assault won't improve your situation.
"There is no point in losing your temper," Foley says. "If the other person is belligerent, just call the police and stand by your car and wait."
Walker warns that if the other driver is using drugs or alcohol, getting into an argument could place you in danger. You can't predict how the other driver will react if harsh words are exchanged.
"Keep your cool," she advises.
5. Don't be too quick to settle.
If the accident eventually reaches a stage where insurance companies and attorneys are discussing a settlement, make sure you don't accept an offer without carefully weighing your options. Consider your expenses, the cost of repairing damage to your property and medical bills you may face.
If you have hired an attorney to represent you, be sure to tell him or her about any settlement offers. Your attorney will have a better understanding than you of whether a payout is fair and reasonable.
"Let your attorney do the talking," Foley says.
6. Don't accept compensation at the accident scene.
Michael Barry, a spokesman for the nonprofit Insurance Information Institute, says drivers sometimes offer to pay for damage they have caused at the scene of the accident. They may say they don't want to involve their insurance company because their rates will rise. They also may tell you they want to avoid having an accident appear on their driving record.
If damage to your car is minor, it may seem like a good idea to accept their offer. The problem is that you won't know how serious the damage truly is until you have the car inspected at an auto body shop, Barry says.
"The other driver may say, 'Here is $500, go fix the car,'" he says. "The repair bill may be $1,200 or $1,500."
In addition, you or your passengers may have injuries that aren't immediately apparent. If you take the money and let the other driver leave without exchanging insurance information, you may never see him or her again.