It’s not unusual to have a fender bender in a store parking lot.
So when Mandy Zobel’s Jeep Wrangler was slammed into at a 4-way intersection in the parking lot of a Target store in Syracuse, NY she assumed it wouldn’t turn into too much of a scene.
The other car, an older model vehicle with significant rusting, drove right through the stop sign, according to Zobel. Though Zobels car only sustained a few scratches, the other vehicle was significantly damaged. The other driver hopped out and started yelling at her.
“He was like, ‘It’s your fault, how dare you? Look at all the damage,’” says Mandy. “And I was like, ‘you didn’t stop at the stop sign.’ He yelled at me... He was really mean. I started crying and yelled back.”
Like Mandy, chances are you’ll find yourself in a car accident at some point in your life. In the state of Florida alone, there are over 200,000 accidents each year, according to the Department of Motor Vehicles. That’s why the best way to ensure your own safety and protect yourself financially is to know what to do in an accident. That means never drive without your license, registration, and car insurance details. Keep them carefully stashed where you can grab them easily.
And of course, never hit the road without making sure you and your passengers are carefully buckled in.
So what should you do if you’ve gotten into an accident? First, evaluate the health and safety of yourself and the passengers. Is anyone visibly injured? Are you suffering from pain? If not, you or a witness should call for an ambulance and emergency responders.
Second, if everyone is okay, it’s best to move your vehicle out of the way of other vehicles. If you’re in a parking lot or on a country road, that’s much easier. But if you’re on a highway, move to the shoulder if possible so you don’t block traffic and increase your risk of getting struck again, the National Highway Traffic Safety Association advises. Above all, don’t leave the scene or you may find yourself facing serious criminal charges.
Unless the accident is rather serious, most people are eager to avoid involving the authorities. There’s the waiting and then the tedious paperwork, and so on. But if you’re looking to protect yourself from future hassles, be sure to call 911 or another roadway emergency assistance number, followed by your insurance company.
Remember that information you carefully stashed in your glove compartment months ago? Now’s the time it will come into use. Be sure your insurance information is up-to-date, so you can provide the other driver with it right away. Also, you’ll need it later if you plan on calling in your insurance claim.
For accident victims like Mandy, a smartphone can be an asset.
“I took pictures of his car, because I was really paranoid about him,” says Mandy. “There were other things wrong with his car already.”
Fearing that the man’s dilapidated car could suffer more damage at a later time, and then be blamed on her, Mandy made sure to take photos of his vehicle from all angles, as well as photos of the stop sign that he was supposed to have stopped at. If you don’t have a camera with you, grab a piece of paper and take notes on the damage that was caused, as well as a diagram of the scene. The more documentation you have, the better.
Of course, the best way to determine who’s responsible for an accident is to have another set of eyes witness it. If you don’t have anyone riding as a passenger in your vehicle, look around to see if passersby noticed what went wrong. In Mandy’s case, the vigilant eyes of another Target shopper were the most helpful tool.
“We had another random person who saw the old man yelling at me, and he came over,” Mandy remembers. “He said (to the older man) ‘I saw the whole thing, you ran a stop sign.’”
Be sure to gather a witness’ name and phone number so you can follow up with them later if need be. And if you’re in a very public area like a store parking lot, chances are there already may be video cameras in place.
With the amount of time you spend in your vehicle, chances are you’ll find yourself in the occasional fender bender. However, being prepared and knowledgeable about accidents is the best tool to ensure that you’ll get through the outcome as quickly as possible.
Megan Johnson is a freelance journalist who writes for InsuraMatch.