25 Things To Note At A Traffic Accident Scene

Annotated list of 25 things to write down at any traffic accident scene, for your own protection.

Traffic accidents happen more often than most of us realize. In many cases, there's insurance to cope with and, often, medical expenses, even litigation. Years of typing depositions taken in personal injury lawsuits taught me that people don't always remember details. Lawyers, however, use details to prove their case.

If you're involved in an automobile accident, here are 25 things it's good to keep track of. Write out your answers as soon after the accident as possible and keep then in a safe place. Possibly you'll never need any of the information but, if you do, you'll know where it is. You won't have to rely on an already overworked memory.

Keep a pen and pad of paper in your car at all times, just in case. These few details could make thousands of dollars difference in the settlement you receive, should litigation become necessary.

1. Where were you going?

You may wonder at this question, and at many of the others, but it's among the first ones asked by many lawyers. The point seems to be whether your mind was on your driving. Even when the other driver was given the ticket for causing the accident, lawyers seem bound to point their finger at you. Don't give them any help.

2. Why were you going there?

Were you going to see your child play soccer? Worried about the game? Worried about the weather? Wondering if your child should be playing this soon after a bout with the flu?

3. Where were you coming from?

The same logic applies here as to No. 1, of whether your mind was on your driving or on where you'd been.

4. What were you doing there?

Once again, it's a question of focus. Were you driving the car or off in some cloud of pesky thought?

5. What time of day was the accident?

This may seem elementary, as of course it would be noted on the police report, but write it down anyway. Note also whether you had your lights on, windshield wipers, what the weather was like.

6. What vehicle were you driving?

Put down all the information you would tell someone to whom you might sell the car - make, model, year, color, condition of the tires, what's been repaired lately, anything that made the car special.

7. How long had you been driving that vehicle?

Is it new? As in, thinking ahead to the lawyers again, had you learned to drive it yet? Or had you had it a long time, so long, in fact, that you didn't even pay attention to what you were doing?

8. What was the other vehicle?

Make, model, color, year (yes, they ask this!), clean or dirty, in good shape as far as you could tell? Did you see brake lights, tail lights, headlights? If there was more than one other vehicle, write down the same information for each of them.

9. What did you notice about the other driver?

We're talking really important things here, like the color of the other driver's shirt or blouse, hair color, approximate age and, if you saw the driver outside the vehicle, whether he or she was wearing shoes.

10. Were there other people in that other vehicle?

If so, write down everything you can remember about them, too. How many were there? How old were they? How were they dressed? How were they behaving? (quiet, rowdy, throwing things out the windows, pushing the driver around)

11. When did you first see the other vehicle?

How long before the incident in question? And how do you know that's when it was? What were you doing to know the time?

12. Where was the other vehicle when you first saw it, and where were you at that time?

Was it a mile away? A car length away? Which lane was it in, if there were multiple lanes?

13. When did you first realize there was a possible problem?

When the other vehicle began weaving back and forth across the center divider? When you felt the truck crash into the back of your car? When smoke began pouring from under your hood?

14. Exactly where did the accident occur?

Note the name of the street or highway, and then get as specific as you can. Between which two cross-streets or exits, or at what mile marker? In what town or county? What businesses were along the side of the road? Or, if residences, what did they look like?

15. Were there passengers in your vehicle?

If so, who were they? Gather names, addresses, phone numbers at home and work for anyone who doesn't live at your address. You never know who might move during the years between the time of the accident and the time you need proof you were paying attention to what you were doing, or that the other driver wasn't driving responsibly.

16. What were those passengers in your vehicle doing?

Reading a book, listening to music on their headphones, talking with you, screaming bloody murder because they'd rather be somewhere else, reading you the directions as you looked for a place you'd never been before?

17. What did you do to avoid having an accident?

Be as specific as you can. Write down the thoughts (if any) that went through your mind in addition to any driving actions you took. You stomped on the brake? Steered around the pile of concrete blocks in the middle of the road? Slowed down to allow the other car room to recover control? Wondered what on earth was going on up there? Or, if you were taken completely by surprise and did nothing, say so. It happens.

18. What happened?

You hit those concrete blocks and your car bounced into the parked cars at the side of the street? Exactly how did it bounce? Draw diagrams. Which car did it hit first? Then which one next? What part of your vehicle hit what part of the other vehicle(s)?

That gray car ran full tilt into the side of your car instead of coming to a stop at the stop sign for their direction at the intersection? What part exactly of the gray car hit exactly what part of your car? Did it hit straight on or at an angle? What angle?

Was there noise? Horns? Screaming? Hissing sounds? Sirens? Crunching sounds?

19. What did you do next?

Were you paralyzed by the surprise, by pain, by terror? Did you leap out of your car and rush to see if the other driver was all right? Did you turn to check on your children in the back seat? Be very specific, and make as long as list as you can manage.

20. What hurt, at the moment after impact?

Were you smashed between the steering wheel and the seat? Bruised by the seatbelt and shoulder harness? Cut by flying glass or other parts of the car that were torn off by the impact? Did you hit your head on anything, or did a package fly through the air and hit you?

21. Were you unconscious at all?

If so, do you know how long? How did you feel, regaining consciousness?

22. What was the first thing you said after the accident, and who did you say it to?

This can be very important, but then all these details can be crucial if a lawyer or insurance adjuster is working to prove you made up the whole crash, or that the cast you lived in for six months afterward wasn't related in the slightest to the fact your arm was crushed by the impact.

23. How did you leave the scene of the accident?

Did you drive away? Were you taken in an ambulance? Did friends come to get you? Where did you go and what did you do next?

24. When people asked you immediately after the accident, and/or at the hospital, "What hurts?" what did you tell them?

This is harder to remember than seems possible at the time. What hurts in the hour or two after impact isn't always the same as what hurts the next day, or even a week later. Write it down. If you can't write, have someone else write it down.

25. What could you have done to avoid this accident that you did not do?

No, I'm not being perverse. If you were that other lawyer, you'd ask this question. You probably asked it, anyway, in those sleepless moments when you wonder why it happened. If there was nothing, that's what you write. If you think maybe, if only, you could have seen what was coming and taken a different route, write it down. Silly as it may seem when you're writing it out, it gives you a coherent answer if you need it later.

In addition to these things, of course, you need the particulars of each person involved. The driver's name, license number, insurance company and policy number, vehicle and its license number, and the driver's address and telephone number(s). Contact information for any witnesses could also be important, though they may not be available later. If possible, ask them to write you a brief note of what they saw and file that with your answers to these questions.

Most of all, do your best to avoid causing or being involved in an accident. But, if you are in one, answering these questions early can ease your mind later.

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