After a Crash: What Steps to Take

Even a minor crash can feel shocking and scary. It can be hard to remember what steps to take after a car accident. There is a lot of advice on the internet about what to do in the event of a crash, and we have synthesized the best of this information here.

First, know that passenger vehicles are engineered to absorb the violent energy of a collision and to protect seat-belted occupants from injury. That’s why it’s so important to make sure all occupants are restrained properly on every trip. No matter when and where that collision occurs, by buckling up both teen drivers and their passengers will have the best chance for recovery. Knowing what steps to take after a car accident can also minimize the stress.

Steps to Take After a Crash

Step 1. Take a deep breath and slow down your heart rate so that you can calmly assess whether the crash is serious.

Step 2: Check yourself for injuries.

Step 3: Check on the well-being of your passengers.

Step 4: Get to safety. If the vehicle is drivable, turn on your hazard lights and pull over to a safe spot that is not blocking traffic, such as the shoulder of the highway. If the vehicle is not drivable, turn on the hazards and stay seat-belted.

Step 5: Call 911 or any other number your state uses to request emergency assistance on roadways. Provide the dispatcher with as much information as possible on who you are and how they can contact you. It’s also important to share whether there is a medical emergency, traffic hazards, or a fire.  Provide as much detail on your location as possible so that first responders can find you—the road name, mile markings, direction of traffic, and what signage you can see.  Stay on the line until the dispatcher says it's OK to hang up.

Step 6: Wait for help.

Step 7: Exchange information with the other drivers involved in the crash.

Step 8: Document the accident. Take notes and pictures once it’s safe to do so. While a fender bender may often be thought of as an annoyance, it’s also a financial transaction. The more documentation the better.

Step 9: Notify your insurer.

Road to Recovery

The dust has settled, the insurers notified, the vehicles repaired, and physical injuries healed. Sometimes that is it, and the crash fades into a family’s memory. However, when an accident or injury causes overwhelming feelings of fear, helplessness, and horror, it can lead to more than just everyday stress reactions -- it can lead to traumatic stress.

Symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), occur in significant numbers of children and parents after unintentional injuries, regardless of whether the crash was serious and who was in the vehicle at the time of crash.

In the first few days after an injury, nearly all children feel upset, jumpy or worried at times. These traumatic stress reactions usually start to get better within a few weeks: re-experiencing (reliving what happened), avoidance (staying away from reminders), and hyper-arousal (feeling anxious or jumpy).

If these feelings persist for a month or more and interfere with daily life, this may be considered post-traumatic stress., a free web resource developed for parents by researchers at the Center for Injury Research and Prevention at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, can help families identify and cope with reactions to traumatic events and prevent PTSD.

Families for Safe Streets offers free resources to help families affected by a crash.

The National Safety Council offers a checklist of what to keep in the car in case of emergencies.