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Basics of Car Accidents

Car accidents are incredibly common: According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), one happens in the United States every 60 seconds, adding up to about 5.25 million accidents a year in the U.S. alone. Yet just because they’re commonplace doesn’t make them any less scary. Many of us live in fear of getting into a car accident, especially if we don’t know what to expect if it does someday happen. 

One of the best ways to handle the fear of something unknown is to understand it better and prepare for it. Learning more about car accidents can help you feel like you know what to do in the event of one, giving you crucial peace of mind that will help you feel more at ease on the road. To help you out, this article will tell you all about the basics of car accidents and what you should do if you ever get into one.  

What Is a Car Accident?

A car accident is an event where two or more vehicles collide or one vehicle hits a pedestrian or some other object. Car accidents can range from minor to serious, potentially leading to property damage, injury, or even death. 

Causes of Car Accidents

According to the NHTSA, the most common cause of car accidents is driver error. This includes things like:

  • Speeding
  • Distracted driving (driving while texting, speaking on the phone, etc.)
  • Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol
  • Driving while tired 
  • Road rage
  • Tailgating
  • Failure to obey traffic lights and other posted guidelines
  • Not properly observing pedestrian and vehicle traffic on the roadway
  • Driving without regard to weather conditions
  • Operating an unsafe vehicle with mechanical defects

This is good news for anybody worried about getting into car accidents: By driving safely, you greatly reduce your risk of being in a collision.

That being said, there are also other things that might cause you to get into a car accident that is not your fault, including:

  • Roadway defects in maintenance or design
  • Road construction defects in traffic control or signs
  • Overgrown trees or bushes that block traffic signs or devices
  • Potholes
  • Faulty car repair or maintenance by a third party
  • Missing traffic signs or devices

Types of Car Accidents

There are a number of different types of car accidents that can occur, such as:

  • Rear-end collisions
  • Parked car collisions
  • Single-vehicle accidents such as collisions with road barriers, debris, or animals
  • Crashes at intersections
  • Collisions when backing out of a parking spot or driveway

Tips for Avoiding Car Accidents

If you’re nervous about getting into a car accident, there are some steps that you can take to avoid them, as well as to try to assure a better outcome if you do get into one. These include:

  • Drive a safe, well-maintained vehicle
  • Always wear your seatbelt while driving
  • Don’t drive while under the influence of drugs, alcohol, or fatigue
  • Don’t drive in unsafe weather conditions
  • Do not use a cell phone while driving
  • Keep your distance from the car in front of you
  • Practice defensive driving, meaning anticipating dangerous situations and the mistakes of others
  • Always park in the center of a parking space and not too close to other cars
  • Whenever possible, don’t park near busy intersections, tight turns, and driveways
  • Don’t drive too fast
  • Obey all traffic signs and rules
  • Be careful when reversing to take your surroundings fully into account
  • Keep a safety kit in your car with flares, first aid materials, and traffic triangles

What to Do After a Car Accident

Of course, as careful as you might be, car accidents still do happen. So what should you do if you find yourself in one? Here are the steps it is recommended to take in the event of a collision.

  • Stay calm - Before taking any action, do your best to take a few deep breaths and slow your heart rate
  • Stop the car - If you are in a safe condition to do so, stop your car and, is possible, move it out of the way of traffic
  • Assess for injuries - Check yourself first and then any others in your car to see if there have been any injuries and, if so, how serious they are
  • Collect information - If you’re able to leave your car safely, your next step will be to gather important information such as the other driver’s contact details and car/insurance information as well as the contact information of any possible witnesses to the scene
  • Document the damage - Next, you’ll want to document the scene of the car accident and any damage done to either car with photos, videos, diagrams, and/or notes
  • Call your insurance - They may offer roadside assistance to help you tow your car if necessary, as well as tell you how to start the insurance claims process
  • Contact a lawyer - A car accident lawyer can help guide you through the process of seeking compensation and protect your interests
  • See a doctor - If you have been injured, seek medical treatment, which will also serve as evidence for your car accident claim

Insurance Claims for Car Accidents

If you experienced any kind of pain, suffering, or loss as part of your car accident, including damage to your vehicle, physical injury, being unable to work, etc., you may be entitled to compensation from your insurance company or the insurance company of the at-fault driver. The process for making an auto insurance claim requires you to:

  1. Send a demand letter 
  2. Wait for the insurance company’s assigned adjuster to complete an investigation
  3. Receive a response from the insurance company, whether it be an offer or a rejection
  4. Negotiate until you accept the compensation offered to you

Legal Guidance and Lawsuits for Car Accidents

If you plan to make an insurance claim, it’s a good idea to hire a car accident attorney to represent your interests. They’ll be able to walk you through the claims process as well as help you get a fair payout. 

In some situations, if you are unable to reach an agreement with your insurance company, you may choose to file a civil lawsuit. That being said, most car accident cases are, in fact, settled outside of court.

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