What do you do when you get into an accident?
This question has crossed my mind a lot of times, something that I’m sure motorists out there are also wary of. This thought came into mind when my good buddy Javie got into an accident last Saturday. His car was parked on the side of the road, and a taxi slammed onto it.
Fortunately, Javie wasn’t hurt. He quickly called me up, asking for help on how to deal with the situation. Using my experience from a training at the Metro Manila Development Authority Traffic Academy a few years back, I was able to provide him with some instructions I thought I’d share with our readers. Here’s an expanded version of what we talked about.
1.) Ascertain that nobody is hurt. After an accident and you find yourself conscious, check your eyesight, see if your head’s ringing, wiggle your toes and fingers, check for wounds and for any sharp pains. If there’s any sharp pain, or you have trouble keeping conscious or serious vertigo, minimize your movements and call for emergency medical help. If all is well, move slowly but surely.
2.) Check to see if your car is safe and stationary. Once you’ve checked that you’re physically OK, make sure that your car’s engine is turned off and the rest of the car is in a safe condition, i.e., it’s parked securely and won’t move. Once you get out, it might roll away and cause further havoc. Pull up or engage the handbrake, chuck the gearshift into first gear or reverse (depending on how the road slopes away, whether uphill or downhill from you) or if it’s an automatic, put the gearshift lever into P or PARK position.
3.) Check if it is safe to get out of the car. Most people immediately try to jump out of the car but fail to check if it is actually safe to do so. You might get hit by incoming traffic or your car might be sitting precariously on a cliff (God forbid!), so check first if it’s safe to get out of the car. Look at your side- and rear-view mirrors, if they are still attached to the car, and check what’s behind by peering over your shoulder to get a better view of the rear of your vehicle to make sure you won’t get hit by anyone or anything when you get out. Then slowly move out of your vehicle and onto a safe spot. The only time you should get out of your vehicle ASAP is when you see fuel, oil or other chemicals leaking, or when you see smoke coming from your vehicle.
4.) Check the occupants of the other car. Once you’ve ascertained that you’re safe, your vehicle won’t roll away from you and there’s no risk of fire or explosion from your vehicle, check the occupants of the other vehicle to determine their status, e.g., if they need medical attention, etc. Tell them in a calm manner to move slowly but surely. Make sure their vehicle’s engine is turned off, and if they can move freely and don’t feel any serious pains, help them get out of their car.
5.) Turn on your emergency hazard lights, including park lights, and deploy your reflective early warning devices. Once you’ve gotten out of your vehicle and helped the other party get out of theirs, deploy your reflective early warning devices at least 30 meters, ideally 50 meters, away from your vehicles and the accident/crash site. Thirty to 50 meters might seem too far away; but if a vehicle is speeding at even 40 kph and fails to see you immediately, the distance is barely enough to allow the oncoming vehicle to brake and avoid the stationary vehicles. If you have a reflective vest, wear it now as this also helps ensure your own safety by increasing your visibility, especially at low-light, extremely bright light (the sun washes out all the other colors and tends to blur the vision of oncoming drivers at midday) and, of course, nighttime conditions.
The key here is to increase your visibility to alert other motorists that there is an accident site, and that they need to slow down and avoid hitting you, causing further damage.
6.) Call for police or traffic enforcers; call family and friends. Once you’ve set-up the early warning devices and ensured your own personal safety, call for police or traffic enforcers so they can conduct their own investigation as to the cause of the accident. If you’re a newbie driver, a young driver or a student, it’s best to call family and friends so they can come over and support you. And, more importantly, to prevent the other party in confusing, scaring, and forcing you to admit that it was your fault prior to the traffic enforcers’ or police’s investigation.
7.) Exchange full contact details and inspect each other’s licenses. While waiting, get the other party’s full proper name and contact details; the more contact details, the better. Mobile phone number/s, office and home landline, e-mails and fax—you will need all of them when you file a police report, and in case you and your insurance company need to sort things out with the other party. Also, make sure the other party’s license is valid. If it was a public utility vehicle (PUV) or a logistics company (i.e., trucking or hauling company) involved in the accident with you, immediately call its office, talk to its manager to report the accident. Sometimes, if the driver is just an employee and not a private owner, they can run or flee, and deny the accident happened to save their jobs or their necks. You can also text or call Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board to inform the government agency of the accident a PUV was involved in so you have information regarding the accident on record.
8.) Inspect the extent of the damage done. While waiting for the authorities, check your vehicle as well as the other party’s vehicle for the damage it has endured. But do so only when it’s safe, i.e., incoming vehicles can see you clearly. If an immobile object was part of the accident, like a post, tree or wall, check it as well since you might be liable for damages done to these objects.
9.) Take pictures, lots of it. A digicam or smartphone with a good camera is useful here. Ideally the pictures are at least five megapixels in size or more; anything with lower resolution will come out very grainy once it is published or viewed on a big monitor. Also, take shots from a variety of angles: do a 360-degree inward sweep of the damage/s, and take both high shots (standing up) and low-shots (kneeling down) to get a very clear idea of the accident and the damage it has caused.
Video is also a bonus here, but stills are preferred. You need the pictures when you submit a police report of the damage, and when claiming for insurance. Take pictures of your car, the other party’s car and the surrounding area. If there was a third-party object involved, take pictures of it as well. This makes the traffic investigator’s and the insurance inspector’s/adjuster’s job easier and faster.
10.) Make a sketch of the accident. After taking pictures, make a simple sketch of the accident and how it happened; the road, your position/lane on the road, where you were coming from and heading to, and the other vehicle’s point of origin and direction, and at what angle your cars collided. This is crucial, and if you can accomplish the sketch before the authorities arrive, you would have saved yourself a whole lot of time.
Lastly, once you’ve made a sketch, have all parties present at the scene of the accident sign both their printed names and signatures on the sketch with a note attesting to the sketch’s authenticity to show that everyone agrees to the sketch, that it is truthful and is as accurate as can be. This will help determine who was at fault by the authorities.
11.) Move your vehicles away from the flow of traffic ASAP. Once full contact details have been exchanged, pictures taken, the sketch verified and authenticated (ideally make three to four copies, one for each of the parties responsible, one for the authorities and one extra for safekeeping), move your cars immediately out of the way of traffic. If your vehicle can move on its own power, bring it home or to your favored repair shop. If not, call for a towing service immediately, or auto clubs like the Automobile Association Philippines.
And the most important thing is to remain calm. Don’t get mad, don’t start shouting and don’t threaten people that you know this and that. It won’t solve anything. A few years back, a newbie female driver, a bank manager who was playing hooky from work (she admitted it herself), scratched my old pickup’s front bumper corner. It was a mild scratch and I was ready to let it go. I was stationary in traffic and she had forced her small car through the gap but inadvertently hit me and her door was pushed deeply inward, leaving a huge dent.
Seeing that my damage was mild and hers was huge, she went nuclear, threatening me with all sorts of stuff, saying her dad was a police officer at the Philippine National Police-Traffic Management Group (TMG). I couldn’t care less because I knew I wasn’t at fault. Seeing that her threats weren’t working, she called her dad who spoke to me and was already making hints that he’d make my life difficult. In reply, I simply told him this: “Sir, with all due respect, you weren’t at the scene of the accident. How can you tell who was at fault? And how does you being a TMG officer make any difference?” That shut him up.