Ouch. Photo by flickr user Adria Richards and licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Today’s guest post comes from Shep McAllister, a sophomore at Trinity University double majoring in communications and political science. He shares some advice about dealing with car accidents in school.

Having a car in college is awesome. You can escape campus whenever you want, members of the opposite sex flock to you for rides, and it helps establish a sense of independence and adulthood. It isn’t until you’re involved in your first car accident that you realize that being an adult can kinda suck, especially if you don’t know what you’re supposed to do.

I was recently rear-ended for the first time, and found myself clueless about what to do. I remembered that in the movies, the parties involved in the wreck exchange “information,” and then go on their merry way. Beyond this step I was pretty much lost, and while I was lucky enough to get my mom on the phone and a helpful officer on the scene, I realized that I needed to be better prepared if this were to ever happen again. So here’s a step-by-step guide I have put together, and am going to keep in my glove box from now on.

  • Stay calm and check for injuries. If you are hurt, stay where you are, and call 911 if possible. Odds are, even a minor injury will draw up enough sympathy from your parents that they’ll do most of the legwork with insurance and the police for you. However, if you are uninjured and your car is operational, try to get out off the road and out of traffic as soon as possible.
  • If anybody involved is injured, or if damage is more than superficial, call the police. An officer can mediate a heated situation, determine who is at fault, and issue a ticket, which is really great as long as he’s not giving it to you. If you don’t involve law enforcement, be sure to file an accident report at your local police station. Some DMV websites even offer the form online (score!).
  • NEVER admit fault. Your judgment is likely clouded, so let the police or insurance companies make that decision.
  • Now you can go through the ritual of exchanging information. Copy down everything on the other driver’s license and proof of insurance, and allow him to do the same. If you have a camera or phone with you, take pictures of these documents as well so you have it backed up (if I ever want to remember anything, I put it in digital form as soon as humanly possible). There’s no such thing as too much information here. Most importantly, know where you keep your insurance information, and keep it updated. If you inherited the car from your parents, make sure you know where everything is.
  • Take pictures of the accident. This is doubly important if an officer doesn’t make a police report. If you don’t have a decent camera phone, you should consider keeping a disposable film camera tucked away in your glove box. Get close-ups of the damage, but also zoom out too to get some context. Your photos should include road signs and indicators of how the accident occurred. Insurance companies can use these to determine who is at fault if the police don’t intervene. If possible, draw a diagram of the accident while it is fresh in your mind, and get the names and phone numbers of any witnesses who could corroborate your story.
  • After the accident, the first thing you’ll realize is that the fully-automated, wireless, digital world you live in ceases to exist. You will need to physically present yourself at the police station during regular business hours (not college hours) to obtain, and often pay a nominal fee for, the police report. No, they will not email it to you as a PDF. Yes, it is inconvenient. Welcome to life. I pointed out that this was bad for the environment, and got a lovely blank stare and some forms to fill out. Once you have the report, you will need to file a claim with the insurance company of whoever is at fault. If there is an insurance company that lets you do this with a simple Formspring submission, please let me know. In all likelihood you will be on the phone for a very long time, after which you may need to use a fax machine to send them the information they need. Yes…a fax machine. After this traumatic experience the insurance company will usually guide you through the process of going to a body shop, getting an estimate, and repairing your vehicle. Just remember: don’t settle for anything less than replacement parts from your vehicle’s manufacturer. You may need to do a little complaining (again, on the phone), but it’s worth the effort. 

Independence has its dark sides. Hopefully your carefree college days are never interrupted by an accident, but it is important to know how to handle yourself if the situation arises.

What do you think? Have you ever been in a wreck at school?