You know the drill: Crash, heart-stopping panic, and then -- especially if major damage or injuries were avoided -- exchange names, addresses and insurance information with the other driver. Easy, right?
Sadly, not if the other driver refuses to provide his or her name, phone number and other personal information. And what if you are so shaken you forget to ask for particulars? Either scenario can leave you in financial and even physical straits.
"The average age of a vehicle on the road is 11 and a half years old, so there are many people driving around without collision or comprehensive insurance," says Dan Young, senior vice president of insurance relations for CARSTAR, auto body repair experts based in Overland, Kan., and a 20-year veteran of Allstate Insurance. "And sometimes those drivers just don't do what they are supposed to do."
That doesn't mean you are helpless if someone declines to share his or her information. Consider these ideas to make sure you're prepared for such an incident:
Make a cheat sheet. You may think that obtaining the other driver's name, license plate number, telephone number and insurance carrier would be second nature. Yet a crash leaves everyone shaken. Write down exactly what you need to obtain if you are in an accident and keep it in the glove box of your car. That way, you can pull it out and refer to it, says Young.
Keep a cellphone handy. The devices let you snap a quick shot of the license plate of the other car and even the driver. "Don't be dramatic about it," says Young. "Just sneak a quick shot of the license plate and driver. It sounds kind of cheesy but it will give you proof that your vehicle and that vehicle were in an accident."
Write down details. As soon as you and your vehicle are out of traffic and harm's way, take a moment to record every detail you can remember about the accident. That would include time, day, street, make and model of the cars and any characteristics or actions of the driver including statements made. Basically, no detail is too trivial to note, says criminal defense attorney Moseley Matheson of Raleigh, N.C. "Aside from trying to get the license plate number, the driver should write down everything they can remember about the other car and driver as soon as possible and call the police," he says. "Details like make, model, color, number of doors and damage on the vehicle should be noted along with a physical description of the other driver. All of this should be relayed to the police along with the direction of travel the car is headed in."
Approach witnesses. If bystanders stop, ask for their names and contact information. Of course, accident witnesses are especially valuable, Matheson says.
Review your own insurance. Collision insurance will pay to repair damage to your car but not other cars. Still, it's a great way to ensure you aren't left without a car if yours is damaged. Also, consider uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage from your own carrier, says attorney Keith Franchini of Albuquerque, N.M. That way, your insurer will cover injuries of you and your passengers, even if the accident isn't your fault.
Finally, don't be an offender yourself. Though state laws differ, leaving an accident abruptly can spell major trouble for you. "Leaving the scene of an accident without exchanging information and contacting the police can result in various traffic charges, including Hit and Run, which in North Carolina can run from a Class 1 Misdemeanor to a class F Felony depending on the damage and injuries," Matheson says. "Also, it can also lead to the revocation of the driver's license."
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