What should I do when I have a car accident? (A tiny car accident)

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Most people have no idea what to do when they find themselves in a fender bender. One of my favorite examples was driving with your brother when someone rear-ended us at a stop light. “Did that just happen?” he asked, with a very normal semi-stunned reaction.

ap-photoWhen that nice lady decided to crunch her way into my lane and crumbled my new car last year, I believe my exact words were “You are fucking kidding me!!” That is a bit more eloquent, but the same kind of duh-denial as your brother’s.

So the first thing to keep in mind is that the participants in even a small wreck are likely to be a little bit in shock. Aside from saying silly things, they may wander around–see yesterday’s story–or they may insist on staying in place until the police arrive.

Trust me, the police are not interested in doing a forensic analysis of your bumper positions or skid marks unless someone is leaving in an ambulance. Take a couple of quick photos if you like, but you need to get well out of the roadway into a parking lot or side street before you start rummaging around for paperwork. All your fellow travelers will thank you, too.

If you can’t drive your car, turn on the hazard lights or lift the hood, get your paperwork and get out of the road. Get way out of the road. There is a perceptual distortion that causes people to steer toward objects that catch their attention even when they mean to avoid them. This target fixation is exactly what caused your sister to drive her bike directly into the side of a building that time.

On top of that, stationary vehicles get struck because people often don’t recognize that they are in fact not moving until it’s too late. They simply expect a vehicle in the road to be moving, so don’t be inside that confusing target.

Once everyone is safely out of traffic, exchange driver information, vehicle information and insurance policies. Keep it friendly and as brief as possible.

If witnesses pop up, get their contact information or ask them to give it to the police if they appear.

A lot of people will want to talk their stress out and they may be upset by just seeing an accident. Be polite if you can, but don’t worry about being therapist to the person who just destroyed your car or the person who just saw a person destroy your car.

Even tiny accidents can be very upsetting and you may not be thinking clearly, just remember to take care of your safety first and don’t let anyone give you CPR while you are breathing.


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