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Road Traffic Accidents in the USA

Information on what to do if you are involved in a car accident in the USA, including who to call and how to report the incident…

In the event of a minor car accident, the first thing to do is to stop. Do not leave the scene of the accident. Notify police and emergency personnel, as necessary. Depending on the location of the accident, warn oncoming traffic.

Reporting an Accident

Reporting requirements vary depending on the state in which the accident occurred. Some states, such as Florida, require the police to be contacted for every accident in which insurance payments are expected. Other states require contact only if there are injuries, traffic is impeded or the car or property damage is likely to reach a specified minimum amount (for example, $1,500 in Idaho). As with all rules of the road, confirm the laws that are applicable in the state of residence.

Reports that may be required vary by state. They include:

  • Police report
  • Written traffic accident report that is sent to the state’s department of motor vehicles (this is separate from the police report)
  • Notification sent to insurance company
Safety Guidelines

If you are involved in an accident:

  • Turn on the vehicle’s hazard warning lights
  • Get out of the car on the side away from oncoming traffic, if possible
  • Set up road flares, if necessary, to warn other drivers

Normal procedures

  • If you hit somebody or something, stop. Do not continue driving because this could be considered a "hit and run" or fleeing the scene
  • Write down (or take a photo of) the other driver’s license plate number and the make/model of the car. In some minor accidents, the other driver may drive off
  • In states where it is required, call the police. The police report will help insurance companies determine responsibility
  • Make sure nobody is hurt
  • Look for witnesses. If a pedestrian, shopkeeper or other driver saw the accident, get their name and phone number, if possible. Ask if they can stay at the scene until the police arrive
  • In states where it is legal, move the vehicle to the side of the road. Do this only after verifying that no one is hurt.
  • Exchange information with the other driver or drivers. This should include:
  • Names, addresses and telephone numbers
  • Driver’s license numbers
  • Name of insurance companies (not just the agent or agency), address, telephone number and policy number
  • Tell the police officer exactly what happened.
After an Accident
  • Insurance claims or notifications: the driver should file a claim or a notification with their insurance company. This must be done promptly. Check the insurance policy to see whether there is a specific time limit for filing the claim or notification
  • State-required traffic accident and insurance report: some states require a traffic accident and insurance report to be filed with the department of motor vehicles. This is separate from the police report. Give as much information as possible about when, where and how the crash happened
  • Depending on the state in which it occurred and the extent of the damage, some minor accidents do not need to be reported to the police or insurance companies
Major Accidents

A major car accident is one that involves injuries or significant damage to vehicles. If you are involved in one, the following actions should be taken where possible:

  • Check for injuries and call 911. If there are serious injuries, request an ambulance when calling 911
  • Look for street signs or exit signs to help direct the authorities to the location of the crash
  • Do not move a seriously injured victim as this could worsen their condition
  • Once all people involved are safe, secure the cars. If possible, move the cars out of the way of traffic. But check the law because in some states, it is illegal to move cars from the scene of an accident
  • Move away from the car if there is a risk it will be hit by another vehicle
  • Never admit fault, apologize or accuse the other driver of being at fault. Only sign papers from the police or your insurance company
  • When the police arrive, they will take an accident report. Be truthful and state the facts. The insurance companies will decide who was at fault
  • Fill out an accident report form with information about the other driver, any witnesses, the scene of the accident, damage to the cars, and an explanation of what happened. Be as specific as possible and take photos of any damage to the cars and the accident scene
  • Do not leave the scene of the accident until the police have confirmed that it is permitted to do so.
State-Specific Information
  • For more information on vehicle-related topics in each of the 50 states, see the relevant state website: Click here

Each site contains state-specific information on minimum insurance requirements, accident procedures and other driving regulations.

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