You’re driving along, focused on the changing of the upcoming traffic light. And then all of a sudden, there’s the sound of crunching metal and horns blaring. That came out of nowhere! A lot of car accidents are such a shock to drivers that it’s hard to say what happened, exactly. However, educating yourself on some basics concerning car accidents can help you stay cool (and maybe even come out on top) the next time this happens.

1. Beware the parking lot.

You might get super anxious on bridges, tunnels, and highways with a significantly higher speed limit, but the parking lot is where most accidents occur. Most are low-speed fender benders, but they make up a disproportionate amount of accident claims. Therefore, it’s probably the place where you should be most alert and cautious.

2. Stay put and call the police.

There is absolutely no good excuse for leaving the scene of an accident. If it wasn’t your fault before, you’ll definitely be faulted once you split. If a witness can identify you, you’ll be charged with a crime. Also, you may want to reconsider moving your car. How the other party reacts to or tries to spin what happened can’t be predicted. Don’t worry about blocking traffic; it’s temporary.

Even if you aren’t hurt, call the police. A report may be a requirement for insurance claims.

3. At fault?

Be honest – was it your fault? It’s not the end of the world. Now you need to focus on following your insurance provider’s protocol to ensure that the other parties’ vehicles are covered. Complete all of the appropriate paperwork and ask if they have a specific mechanic you need to take your own car to for repairs.

If this has become a contentious situation, and fault isn’t exactly clear, look into getting a car accident attorney. The expense is worth not being left holding the bag on an infraction you know you’re not guilty of.

4. Go to the hospital.

So you’re in shock, but you feel fine. All’s well, right? Wrong. You can thank your lucky stars that you weren’t seriously injured, but know that a lot of accident injuries aren’t immediately apparent, and can crop up in the days following the accident.

Years of chronic pain in the neck or back that’s difficult to treat afflicts many who thought their accident was no big deal at the time. Seek medical attention, and contact that attorney if necessary.

5. Record everything – and keep it.

Because you don’t know what the party will allege happened – either now or months from now – become the historian of this accident. Take photos, keep copies of all paperwork, and hang onto receipts from things like car rentals. If you don’t remember or weren’t a witness to one aspect of the accident, be honest and say you don’t remember.

It’s a stressful spot. Even the best drivers slip up and find themselves at fault for car accidents. But if you’re prepared to follow procedure, you can resolve the damage and put things right again relatively painlessly.

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