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What to do after a car accident

(MoneyWatch) Getting into an automobile accident is stressful enough -- not knowing what to do in the immediate aftermath can make a bad situation even worse.

Here's what you should -- and shouldn't - do if you're involved in a car crash. First, no matter whose fault it is, remain calm and polite. Tempers can flare, and finger-pointing or getting into a heated argument with another driver can only make matters worse. Here is a checklist of things to do immediately after am accident:

- Turn on your hazard lights.

- If possible, move the vehicle out of traffic to safe location.

- If another vehicle is involved, do not discuss who is at fault. Also do not discuss the limits of your insurance policy.

- If there are any injuries, call 911 for medical, fire and police assistance.

- After you are sure that you, your passengers and the other driver are safe, and if there is another vehicle involved, you'll need to exchange the following information with the other driver: name; address; telephone number and/or email address; insurance policy number and insurer name; information on the vehicles involved, including year, make, model and license plate number.

Some other things to keep in mind are that if there are any witnesses, get their name, address,and phone numbers. Make a specific note of the time and location of the accident, including road, traffic and weather conditions. If there is a police officer on the scene, note the officer's name, badge number, department and ask for the incident report number.

Drivers are often advised to take photos and video recordings of the scene, along with any damage to your vehicle. But this should only be done if it is safe to do so and is important to documenting the cause of the accident.

Once the situation has been safely managed and all of the above is taken care of, then contact your insurance company to report the loss. This will begin the claims process, and you will receive a claim number and a specific contact department and/or individual at your insurance company. Remember to ask your insurance company if your policy provides towing and roadside assistance benefits, which may be provided to help move a damaged vehicle.

After the dust has settled, your insurance company will send a claims adjuster to inspect the damage to your vehicle. This person will prepare a list of the items that need to be repaired or replaced; they will also recommend a repair shop for you to use. Once repairs are complete, most insurers will require the repair shop to prepare and send a certificate of repairs to ensure that the damage to your vehicle was actually repaired as specified. This is typically required so that any future damage to the same area of the vehicle will be covered.

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