Car accidents can be some of the most terrifying learning opportunities people ever get. Hopefully, your first car accident will be a minor one; maybe a fender bender or a slow turn that was too close to the car at the intersection.
Mine was a little scarier than that, but fortunately, no one was hurt, and I wasn’t even entirely at fault. After all, it was a busy Fourth of July and the motorcyclist was speeding; and for a young driver, the stress of a large amount of traffic waiting for you to take a left turn can be enough for you to make the turn without being 100 percent certain the vehicles coming in your direction are far enough away and driving the speed limit.
However, this was a huge moment of learning and growth for me. I learned that no matter how much pressure you’re feeling from drivers around you, it’s better to be safe than sorry. I also discovered that it’s best to avoid driving on busy holidays, especially Fourth of July, which is known for being the deadliest weekend for car accidents—between 2007 and 2011, 40 percent of all highway deaths occurred on these weekends.
Liability in a Car Accident
On top of these pretty standard life lessons, I also learned about the logistics of car accidents. For example, one of the main reasons that law enforcement is contacted for almost all car accidents is to create a record of what occurred during the accident, in order for the victim to have proof that the other person caused the accident. The negligent driver is usually liable for any property damages and medical costs, and by saving the evidence of what happened, you’ll be able to establish liability, especially if you need to file a personal injury lawsuit.
New drivers should follow these steps after an accident:
- Determine the extent of the damage; if someone is hurt, contact emergency services immediately. If not, try not to move the vehicles unless they are in the middle of traffic.
- If no one is hurt but there is still some damage, call the non-emergency services line so you can get someone to file a report.
- For legal and insurance purposes, it’s best to limit your conversation with the other party and to not admit fault for what happened.
- Record all the information from the car accident; when, where, and how the crash occurred; the other driver’s name, address, phone number and information about their car; their insurance company name and policy number; and any witnesses’ names.
- It’s also a good idea to get pictures of where the impact occurred and the damage caused to your vehicle and the other vehicle for your auto insurance records.
It’s easy to forget some of these details, especially after a serious crash, because drivers are often shaken up after it happens. Along with the other information about the accident, it’s also a good idea to note details like where you were going when the crash happened, what direction the other person was going, and what the weather was like at the time of the crash.
If the damage that occurred was only to each party’s vehicles, the situation is usually not as severe. However, being prepared to take accountability when at fault in an accident is why all drivers are required to at least have liability car insurance, which covers repairs for the person not at fault.
Full coverage insurance is helpful, because if someone crashes into you and they don’t have insurance, you don’t have to sue them or wait until they pay you for you to get your car working again. However, by having auto liability protection, you won’t get into thousands of dollars of debt when you’re sued after a car accident that you caused.
Fortunately, I did have liability coverage, and after realizing that nobody was hurt and that I had insurance, the motorcyclist simply took my information and went on his way. Because this was Fourth of July weekend and there were hundreds of witnesses, the police were called; but after confirming I hadn’t been drinking and driving, it really wasn’t an issue.
I simply received a ticket for not yielding during a left turn and everybody was pretty understanding about the whole situation. I was lucky enough to have friends nearby who stood by me and made sure everything was okay throughout this whole process, which I was grateful for because the entire experience was pretty scary.
Injuries after a Car Accident
If the motorcyclist and his passenger had gotten hurt at all, I would have been wishing I lived in California, where their pure comparative fault negligence standard provides more than one person with the responsibility for the accident, if that was the case.
Because the motorcyclist was speeding, and several witnesses stated that in the police report, I would have only been 60 or 70 percent at fault, rather than 100 percent at fault for the accident. If he’d had injuries, this would have helped me reduce the amount I would have had to pay as a responsible party.
Car accident injuries can be very severe, and getting sued over them can quickly take away your financial independence. When someone wins a lawsuit against you, you’re required to pay what the court orders, even if they are sky-high medical bills. After a lawsuit, a person may face wage garnishments or liens against assets in order to pay off what they owe, even for medical bills. This will not only affect your credit score, it also takes away the funds you have to pay off your own bills.
To prevent getting a car accident on your record right out of the gate, it’s best to drive extra cautiously within your first six months as an independent driver. Studies show that after six months, crash rates fall by 40 percent, which can be enough to save you from a lot of accidents.
Many people get into a car accident at some point in their lives, and I feel grateful that mine was one where the only consequence I faced was a mark on my auto insurance. However, by driving carefully, you may be able to save yourself from even that.
Photo by Matthew T Rader
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