There you are, blinker on, sitting in your car, waiting to make that left hand turn – singing with Carrie Underwood – and BANG, your vehicle has been hit from behind by a driver who looked away “just for a second”.

Ever happen to you? It happened to me. Emergencies don’t always come in the form we expect, but sometimes they come in ordinary ways to remind us that our goal is actually not to have every conceivable remedy in the trunk of our car, but to possess some specific knowledge and the confidence that comes from a spirit of self-reliance.

Two weeks ago a friend had an accident and thought he had done all the right things. He got the make, model and license number of the car and the driver’s license number of the man who hit him. When he later tried to track him down, he learned the license plate was stolen and the address on the drivers’ license didn’t exist. We can never be one hundred percent safe in any situation, but there are some things we can do if we are involved in an accident to mitigate our situation.

If possible, move your car to the side of the road and clear of the flow of traffic. It is better to move to the roadside, since leaving your car in the middle of the road could result in additional accidents or injuries to others. If you’re unable to drive your car, turn on your hazard lights, or use your flares or a reflective road triangle to warn others. Do not attempt to direct traffic unless someone is injured and lying in the road, and can’t be moved.

If you are unhurt, grab a paper and pencil before you exit your car and immediately write down the make, model and license plate of the other car involved. Take care that when you step out of your vehicle that you calm down, watch for traffic, and use every precaution not to put yourself or your family at risk of being hit in traffic.

Be aware that in the excitement following an accident, many uninjured victims each year are hit by traffic and killed or injured. Sometimes another vehicle will plow into the vehicles involved in the fender bender, so if you are on the shoulder of the freeway don’t stand between vehicles or near the traffic – get yourself and your family well off the shoulder and away from the accident scene (if they must exit the vehicle for safety reasons). Kids in car seats may be safest if they stay where they are – you will have to judge the circumstances.

Always get the police involved and insist the other driver remain on the scene until the police arrive. This was my friend’s mistake. If the driver refused, my friend could have notified the police and they would have had the opportunity to track him down. Once that driver was away from the scene, he vanished.

If you are trying to get a driver to remain at the scene and they appear drunk, be sure to tell the 911 operator. Depending on the accident, you may decide to contact the police. Sometimes they may say you should just contact your insurance company and they may try to talk you out of a report, which was my experience. Because my accident was “just a fender bender”, the police officer was not excited to make a report. Yet, I succeeded in getting him to do so (always err on the side of caution), and in the end the insurance company ended up totaling my car, even though the damage appeared small.

Remaining calm and patient may not be easy, but it is essential to a good outcome. If you leave the scene of the accident too quickly, or anger the other party involved and they leave, you may not have the proper information to file a claim.

While you wait for police to arrive, get the information you will need from the other driver:

Driver’s license information, including: license number, expiration date, name, address and telephone number.

Vehicle information: Registration number and expiration date, license plate number, address and telephone number on the registration (this may be different from the information on their driver’s license), make of vehicle, model, year, serial number (VIN).

Insurance information: insurance company name, address, telephone number, policy number, expiration date, name and address of the insured (again this may differ from that on a license) and their agent/broker.

Passenger contact information: name, address, telephone number, and where they were sitting in the car.

Witness information: name, address, phone and where they were located at the time to the accident.

Record a description of the damage to your car and also the other vehicle. If you have a camera (or phone camera), take pictures.

Note the names of the streets and any landmarks, and make a sketch of the accident.

As you speak with the other driver, police or anyone else, be careful what you say. Never say anything to indicate that you may be liable for the accident or have a part in the cause of the accident. You don’t have to be untruthful, but if you are at fault, better to let your family attorney do the talking for you. When the police officer asks for your version of what happened, stick to the facts. Answer direct questions honestly, but don’t volunteer more information than requested. If in doubt or confused, say “I don’t know”.

Always get a copy of the police report.

Contact your insurance agent immediately, even during non office hours. A delay in contacting your agent could cause a delay or even denial of a claim. A claims adjuster will want to see the car, so never begin repairs before they can complete this step. They will report to you what compensation you may be entitled to, and let you know what your next step should be. You may also want to contact an attorney to make sure the insurance companies treat your claim fairly.

Remember that all these same steps should be taken even if you are the one at fault in the accident. If you are determined to be the one responsible, it enables others involved to file claims and lawsuits against you. Your insurance company will represent you against most such claims for damage or injury. You need the truth on your side and all the information and pictures you gathered at the time of the accident will make getting to the truth more likely.

If you are in a “No Fault” state, then some of the above may be moot, and the insurance companies will work it out between them.

Now is the time to review these steps, and especially with any young drivers in the family. Our first reaction when we are involved in a crash may be to run, especially for less experienced drivers. This is not only foolish, but in many cases, running away can have not only financial but criminal consequences as well. If you are afraid you or other drivers in the family will not remember what to do during a crisis event, include a form or list with your insurance papers. You will be accessing your insurance and registration at an accident scene and will be reminded to check the form to remember these important key actions to take for the protection of you and your family.

To download an accident report form visit Carolyn’s blog at: