Alberta & BC Rockies What to do after a Car Accident

You see it on the road every day. What should you do when an accident includes you? Whether your fault or not. Should you call the police, or can you just swap phone numbers with the other driver to resolve it later? Do you move the cars onto the side of the road, or leave them in place to help police figure out whose fault it was? The right answers depend on how the value of damage, what province you're in, and the terms of your auto insurance. In general, follow these rules of the road:

Step 1 - Clear the road
If no one is injured, and there is no fuel leak or fire, try to move your vehicle onto the shoulder. This action important if the accident happened in a blind spot like on a hill or a curve, where approaching traffic can quickly turn this into a multi-car pileup. Vehicles position is typically less important than specific attributes of vehicle damage in proving who's at fault. Experienced police officers and insurance adjusters can figure that out. Survey the accident scene, and if anyone is hurt, you should call 911 immediately. Ditto, if you suspect the other driver has been drinking, or if he or she becomes abusive. If the accident is attracting a crowd, lock your car doors for security.

Step 2 - Call the Police
If there are no injuries, you may not need to involve the police, but if you damaged any public property (like a fire hydrant or a parking meter), you may have to call police. Otherwise, you need only report damage over a certain amount. This varies from $400 in New Brunswick to $1,000 in Alberta and Ontario, and includes only parts, not labor. In Manitoba, however, every collision requires a call to police. Sometimes busy officers don't file reports to reduce paperwork, but instead (like in the Greater Toronto Area ) they'll simply ask you to go to a Collision Reporting Centre within 24 hours.

If the collision happened on private property, like at a mall or corporate parking lot, the highway traffic laws are not strictly applicable, so police typically get involved only if there's criminal activity.

Step 3 - Exchange information
If you've determined that your dented door doesn't require a 911 call, your major task becomes collecting information. Always ask for the other driver's name, address, phone number and driver's license number. Write down their license plate number and the make and model of his or her vehicle. Finally, ask for proof of insurance, including the name and address of the registered owner of the vehicle, the name of the other driver's insurer (not the broker) and the policy number. This information is required when you report the claim to your insurer.

If the police are planning to file a report, ask for the precinct's phone number and the investigating officer's badge number. If there is no police report, then write down any witnesses' names and numbers, and make a rough sketch of the scene to provide to your insurance adjuster later. Many insurers (and most car rental firms) provide a blank accident report form you can keep in your glove compartment, just in case.

Step 4 - Call for a tow if you need one
If you belong to an auto club, phone them and explain that you need a tow - they'll arrange everything for you. If you're not an auto club member, call a towing company directly, though the price will vary depending on where you are, and how far you need to be towed. You should ask for a written estimate before the driver attaches the hook. FYI: if your vehicle poses a danger, police will call their own dispatcher and haul you away, at your expense, without giving you the opportunity to comparison shop.

Step 5 - Contact your insurance company
As soon as possible, report the accident to your insurer, either directly or through your broker. You should do this before you arrange for any repairs. Complete their a claim form, so have the information you previously collected at the scene on hand. You may also be asked for a copy of the police report, if there was one.

Your insurance company will assign an adjuster to your claim who will determine how much damage the insurance company will cover. Either the adjuster asks you to take your car to an approved body shop; or they will let you choose the shop, but set a reimbursement limit for repairs.

If your province has a no-fault insurance system (Manitoba, Quebec and, to a degree, Ontario and Saskatchewan), then your insurer pays for some or all damages to your car, regardless of who's fault, and limits your right to sue for compensation. Police may not charge either driver, but insurance adjusters will still assign a degree of responsibility to each driver (typically using a "fault chart" of collision scenarios). Even partial fault will likely increase your premiums, sometimes significantly. Even worse, your insurance company may refuse to renew your policy when your current term is up, and few competitors will consider covering a driver with an at-fault claim. It may take five or six years to return to a clean record. Even if you were involved in a series of accidents in which you weren't at fault, your insurer may consider you a higher risk and raise your premiums.

While you may be tempted to skip the call to your insurer, for minor accidents, and pay for minor repairs out of your own pocket, be warned that most policies demand that you report all accidents. Also, the other driver may still report the accident to his insurer, setting off a whole other chain of events. If you happen back your car into something and a few hundred dollars will cover repairs, you may be better off just paying the bill yourself (it's probably under your deductible, anyway). If you have an independent broker, consider getting their advice.

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