If you drive long enough, it is very likely that you will be involved in a fender bender. In fact, insurance companies that base their entire business model on calculating when you’ll have your next accident estimate that the average driver will be involved in an accident about once every 18 years. And that’s based on billions of dollars of research over more than three quarters of a century. Even if you’re the world’s best driver, the people around you may not be as skilled. So if you’ve never been in an accident, consider yourself lucky. But it always pays to know what to do if it ever happens. By far, the most common automobile accident is what we call a fender bender, with minimal damage and no injuries. Here at TrustDALE, we want to make sure you know exactly what to do after a fender bender.
Your very first concern after any accident should be safety. First, assess whether anyone in either car is injured. Since we’re talking about fender benders here, we’ll continue on the assumption that no one has obvious injuries. The next thing to do is to get the cars to a safe spot. Again, assuming this is a real fender bender, you should be able to drive your vehicle to a place away from traffic. If your accident occurred in heavy highway traffic, do what you need to do to get to the side of the road. If you are on a surface street, find a safe spot on the side of the road or in a nearby parking lot.
Once you have moved to a safe place, your next step should be to exchange information with the other driver. The information you need, and the only information you should provide, is found on your respective insurance cards:
- Full name
- Insurance company
- Policy number
- Phone number for the insurance company
Some experts used to suggest getting further personal information, like phone numbers, email addresses, and driver’s license numbers. However, due to the risk of identity theft, National Association of Insurance Commissioners now recommends sticking to the basic insurance information. If the other driver is pressuring you for more information, wait until the police arrive. They will be able to explain what information you really need to supply.
Should I Call My Insurance Company?
The short answer is yes. Call your insurance company as soon as possible. There is no requirement that you call while you’re still at the scene of the accident, but don’t wait too long to call. In an accident with no injuries and only minimal damage, some people want to avoid calling their insurance. They believe that:
- Reporting an accident will raise their premiums
- Any damage costs can just be “worked out” with the other driver
The problem with this is that almost every single insurance policy out there requires you to immediately report an accident, whether or not you were at fault. Failing to do so could cause problems down the line.
Also, even if you think you can work it out with the other driver, you have no guarantees that they won’t make a claim. If they get home and find more damage, or even if they just decide that they don’t really want to work it out, they can file a claim. Most insurance companies don’t have an explicit time limitation on when you can file a claim so the other drive could file a claim days or even weeks after the accident.
However, when talking to your insurance, be truthful but don’t admit fault. Tell them exactly what happened and let them make their own decision about who is responsible. You should also avoid telling the other driver you are at fault. Be calm, but don’t include an admission of guilt in any apology. The best thing to do is to say at little as possible while still being polite. Wait for a police report. They will likely make a determination of responsibility. In the meantime, exchange information and take pictures if you have a smartphone. Photograph any damage and of the other driver's license plate.
Do I Need to Call the Police?
Often, after a fender bender drivers are reluctant to call the police. After a small accident, you just want to get on your way, and you don’t want to wait for the police. Or you may not want to “complicate” things. However, there are two reasons you should always get a police report. First, in case you or the other driver make an insurance claim, a police report is a neutral third-party report of what happened. It helps avoid a “he said, she said” situation.
The second reason you need a police report is that in many cases it is required by law. Most states have a minimum amount of property damage beyond which you are required to call the police. In Georgia, the threshold is pretty low. Any damage over $500 must be reported. That may seem like a lot, but damage to a bumper can add up quickly.
In most cases, a body shop will not repair a damaged bumper, they will replace it. A replacement bumper can cost $300 to $700. With labor, the average cost of a new bumper is over $1,000. On most modern cars, the bumper is integrated into the car, and it takes a lot of labor to remove and replace. On many newer cars, the bumper also houses sensors and other specialized technologies that drive up the price even further.
State law also requires you to report any accident in which there is an injury. While it may not seem like anyone is injured immediately following an accident, injuries can crop up later. One of the most common types of fender bender is a “rear end”, in which a vehicle is hit from behind. It is common even in slow rear-end accidents to have some whiplash, which can result in neck and back soreness and may require some medical attention. If it turns out later that someone needs medical care for whiplash, it will help if you filed a police report and called your insurance at the time of the accident.
Accidents that occur on private property are a little different. It is still good to get a police report for neutral third-party documentation. But police cannot issue a citation for incidents occurring on private property.
That’s what happened to Alessandra Ribeiro when a valet who worked for Eagle Parking backed into her car. She got a police report, but Eagle Parking refused to honor the police report and have their insurance pay for the damage. The accident occurred in their parking lot, on private property, so no citation was issued. But refusing to acknowledge the police report is just bad business. That’s why we contacted Eagle Parking to try to resolve the issue. And in the meantime, we paid Alessandra’s deductible so she could get her car fixed.
If a business has done you wrong and refuses to make it right, contact us. We’re here to protect consumers and get businesses to do what’s right.