Paul Meloan – Vested Interest

I was all set to finish writing about revocable trusts when I got hit this morning on the way to the office. While I was stopped in traffic on Sam Eig Highway, a driver hit the car behind me from behind, propelling that car into the rear of my car.  It sucks.  Revocable trusts are cool, but they will have to wait until tomorrow.

Auto accidents are stressful situations, even in cases like this one without major injuries or trauma. That being the case, the time to plan for a fender-bender is well before it happens. I’ve been through this a handful of times in 30 years of driving, and it never gets easy.

Here are 7 keys to getting through your next fender-bender with as little trauma and aggravation as possible.

1. Stay as calm and composed as possible. What you are feeling in the first 30 seconds after the collision is the rush of adrenaline coursing through your body. It will calm down in a few minutes. Breathe. Relax. Think.

2. Get your car out of traffic and someplace safe. Nothing is more infuriating than traffic getting jammed up while two people stand by their otherwise-functional cars and stare at the damage to their bumpers. Not only is it enraging to others, it greatly increases the chances of a secondary collision somewhere. Don’t turn a nuisance into a disaster, get the hell out of traffic if at all possible.

3. Call the cops. You are not bothering them, this is part of their job. Dial 911. Tell them exactly where you are. They will ask if anyone is injured. Unless you are sure no one is hurt, say “I don’t know.” A police officer can help make sure all relevant information is exchanged, tow trucks get called, etc. Also, you may not be able to tell if the other driver is intoxicated or on drugs. The police officer is trained to detect that, and it’s the first thing she will be looking for at the scene. The second thing is if someone’s license has been suspended or revoked. You will want to know this.

4. Exchange information with the other drivers. Now that you are out of traffic and in a safe place, go ahead and exchange name, phone numbers, address, car make, model, license plate, insurance carrier and policy number with the other driver(s). This is the info your carrier needs to handle your claim. You do not need to fill an encyclopedia with data at the scene.

5. Got a camera? Take some pictures. Photograph the cars and the drivers, highlighting all damaged areas. Digital film is cheap. Snap away.

6. Report the collision to your insurance carrier after you leave the scene. There is no need to stand by the side of the road and have this conversation with your insurance company now. Do it when you get home, the office, or anywhere else where you can sit down, be comfortable and think. Whether you end up filing a claim there or with the other driver’s coverage, you still need to make your carrier aware of the potential claim. When the insurance company asks if you are injured, the only correct answer is “I don’t know.” Injuries from auto accidents can take hours to days to become symptomatic. There is no way to know 2 hours after a collision if you are hurt or not. Having been hit from behind a couple of times, I file a claim on my own policy’s collision coverage and pay the deductible to get my car fixed quickly and correctly.  I do this knowing it’s the other driver’s fault and ultimately his carrier will pay the claim.  A few months later when all the liability is sorted out, I get my deductible back.

7. Finally, a note about personal safety. Break any and all of the above rules before you put yourself in a position of vulnerability. Someone hits you in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night? Drive on until you reach a police station, a hospital, a shopping center, anywhere that is big and public and safe. Any place where they have lots of people and/or lots of security cameras. Report what happened to the police. No one will ever fault you for leaving a scene for your own safety when you promptly report the accident to the police. Car stuck and can’t move? Lock the doors, sit there, and call the police immediately. Tell them you do not feel safe there. Your first words to the other driver should be, “Hi! Are you OK? I just called the police and they’re on their way now.” Sit in your locked car until the officer arrives.

Drive safely.

Paul Meloan is the co-founder and co-managing member of Aegis Wealth Management, LLC, in Bethesda, Maryland USA. Before Aegis Paul was a practicing attorney as well as working in the tax practice of Ernst & Young, LLP.

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