Everyone should have a general idea of what to do if involved in an accident — either as a driver, a passenger or as a witness. Action taken immediately following an accident may have serious consequences, and failure to comply with certain legal requirements may constitute a crime, subjecting the violator to possible fines and imprisonment. By keeping a cool head and remembering a few basic rules, you can avoid future complications.
No one can predict when an accident might occur, so it's important to plan ahead. Always carry your insurance card, drivers license and vehicle registration form. The scene of an accident or a traffic stop can be very stressful and chaotic, so keep these documents readily accessible. It's wise to check them on a regular basis to make sure nothing has expired.
What should I do if I'm involved in an accident?
If you are involved in an accident, here are some helpful suggestions of what to do:
At the scene of the accident, stop as soon as you can without endangering others or obstructing traffic.
Remain at the scene of the accident.
Unless injuries force you to do otherwise, do not leave the scene of the accident until you have given the other driver all of the following: your name and address; your vehicle registration number; the name of your insurance company; the names and addresses of other people in your vehicle; and, if not already given, the name of the owner of the vehicle you were driving. If you know that someone has notified the police, stay until the police arrive.
Assist the injured if you are able.
If you suspect anyone is seriously injured, call a doctor or an ambulance. Do not move the injured unless necessary; avoid adding to the injuries. Keep the injured person warm and stay with him or her until help arrives.
Warn passing traffic.
If possible, have someone stationed to warn approaching vehicles. Protect the injured from oncoming traffic. Place flares or other signals on the highway to warn oncoming cars that there has been an accident.
Get the name, addresses and telephone numbers of any witnesses.
Sometimes one of the witnesses or a bystander can help get this information. Attempt to obtain a short summary of what each person saw. If possible, take notes.
If the accident results in property damage in excess of $1500, you should also call the police and remain on the scene. In either case, when the police arrive, cooperate by supplying your name, address and license and insurance information.
Police officers are trained to handle the situations that may arise after an accident occurs. If you are involved in an accident, even though not physically injured, you may suffer from shock. Your emotions may make it difficult for you to think clearly at the time. A police officer can help sort out the details of what happened.
Do not leave the scene of the accident until you have done everything required. Otherwise, you may be charged with a crime called Failing to Perform Duties of a Driver, known informally as a "hit and run." If convicted of a so-called hit and run, your driving privileges may be suspended or revoked. Conviction can mean jail, fines and license suspension, as well as a felony or misdemeanor conviction on your record and your driving record.
Obviously, it's best to stick around and perform all the duties required of a driver.
What if I hit a parked car with no one inside?
If you damage an unattended vehicle or other property, you must try to locate the owner. If you cannot find the owner, leave a note in a conspicuous place on the vehicle or property with your name, address, driver's license number, vehicle registration (license plates) number, insurance information and a brief description of what happened.
What if I am injured?
If you are seriously injured, seek medical attention right away, or at least as soon as possible. Significant and even severe injuries are not always apparent immediately. If you have auto insurance, your personal injury protection benefits ("PIP benefits") should begin covering your medical expenses immediately.
If you need medical treatment after the collision, choose a medical provider whom you trust. Follow that provider's advice. Once you establish care, you should come to have a good understanding of your diagnosis, your provider's expectations and your prognosis. If you and your medical provider are not working together, not communicating well and/or not cooperating, consider choosing a provider with whom you will have a better relationship. The important thing is to get you healing in a timely and effective manner.
Do I need to give any additional statements at the accident scene?
You are under no obligation to give a statement about what happened in the accident to the police or anyone else. Nevertheless, a brief description of the collision will help the police in their investigation. The law does not require you to admit any blame or guilt, and you should not do so at the scene of the accident. Although you may think you were at fault, you may learn later that you were not at fault. The scene of an accident is no place for comment. An evaluation can occur later when you have all the facts and emotions are calm. At the scene of the accident, keep your notes and information strictly to yourself. In case of a death, serious injury or property damage, it is recommended that you consult a lawyer as soon as possible.
What else do I do after the collision?
As soon as possible after the accident, make your own written notes on all significant facts. Your notes should be as specific as possible because memories fade quickly. Make a diagram showing the positions of the vehicles before, at the time of, and after the accident. Step off or measure the exact distance of skid marks and other important distances, and write them down. Make certain that at a later date you can locate the points on the road where the vehicles collided and where they came to a stop. Include such details as the time, condition of the road, weather and amount of traffic. If you have a camera at the scene, take pictures to preserve skid marks, positions of the vehicles, and any other physical evidence that will soon disappear after the accident.
Again, if you think you have been injured in any way, see a doctor as soon as possible. Serious and costly injuries are not always immediately apparent.
If you have an attorney, ask him or her to call or write your insurance company or agent as soon as possible to notify them of the accident. If you don't have an attorney, be sure to do this yourself without delay. Obtain the name of your claims adjuster, your adjuster's address and phone number and your claim number. This information may be very important later. If your original notice is given orally, follow up with an immediate written notice, send it by certified mail and keep a copy of the notice. This is important, because if you fail to give notice within the amount of time specified in your policy, you may lose your insurance benefits.
Do I need to file an accident report?
Oregon law requires that the driver of any vehicle involved in an accident resulting in injury or death, damage to the property of any one person in excess of $1500, or the towing of any vehicle, must file an official accident report with the state within 72 hours after the accident. The report must be made on forms that you can obtain from state or city police, county sheriffs' offices or Department of Motor Vehicle offices, or the DMV website at www.odot.state.or.us/forms/dmv/32.pdf/. You must file an accident report and return it to a DMV office even if a police officer files a report. If you do not report an accident when required to do so, your driving privileges may be suspended.
To accurately complete the accident report, you will need the following information:
The location, time and date of the accident.
The nature and extent of damages and injuries.
The name, address, driver's license number, vehicle registration number and insurance information of any other drivers involved.
The names, addresses and telephone numbers of any witnesses.
A short summary of what the witnesses saw.
Your own written notes on all significant facts. Your notes should be as specific as possible because memories fade quickly. Make a diagram showing the positions of the vehicles before, at the time of, and after the accident. Step off or measure the exact distance of skid marks and other important distances and write them down. Make certain that, at a later date, you can locate the points on the road where the vehicles collided and where they came to a stop.
Details about the time, condition of the road, weather and amount of traffic. If you have a camera at the scene, take pictures to preserve skid marks, positions of the vehicles and other physical evidence that will disappear after the accident.
Be sure to keep a copy (front and back) of this report for your future reference.
If you have a lawyer, or plan to employ one, have him or her examine your report before you file it. It is very important that you file this report with the DMV. If you don't, the DMV will suspend your license.
Sometimes the other driver will offer to pay you or fix your damages if you agree to not report the accident, particularly if he or she has no insurance or license. But even if the offer is well intentioned, it is a violation of Oregon law to fail to report a "reportable" accident to DMV. Check with the DMV if you are unsure what to do.
What if I receive a citation?
If you receive a citation, you should consult a lawyer as soon as possible. It may affect your responsibility to other people for money damages, as well as being a traffic offense. Also, it may affect your insurance coverage and premiums or your license to drive.
You can challenge an accident-related traffic citation, but you should be sure this is the right thing to do in your situation. You should first consider your chances of success if you do contest the citation, the amount it will cost you to contest it, and whether or not you could lose your driving privileges. Your lawyer can help you assess the situation and come to a decision about whether to challenge the citation.
If you contest the citation, you are entitled to a trial. If the case is to be resolved in municipal court, a judge will decide the matter. If the case is to be resolved in circuit court, a judge will also resolve it, unless you immediately request a jury and pay the required fee.
Accepting an insurance payment
Do not make or accept payments or sign a release or statement until after you have carefully considered the situation. Beware of hasty action in settling a claim or in admitting any blame. Delay making or accepting payments or signing any release or statement until after you have carefully considered the situation. You may not be able to change your mind later even if you discover new facts about the accident or any new injuries. If you do not fully understand the consequences, you should consult a lawyer.
A representative from the insurance company of the person you hit, or who hit you, may call seeking a recorded conversation about the collision. You should carefully consider your comfort level about speaking to someone whom you don't know about a potentially traumatic event.
What if I don't have insurance?
Oregon is a mandatory insurance state. You must have the minimum auto insurance coverage in order to be a legal driver. Oregon law also requires that you carry proof of your insurance in your vehicle.
Driving without the minimum insurance coverage could result in a conviction and fines, driving privilege suspension and perhaps towing fees. If you are not insured and are involved in an accident that is not your fault, you may lose certain civil rights against the other driver. If you are not insured and are involved in an accident, your driving privileges will be suspended for one year. At the end of the suspension, you may have your driving privileges reinstated if you can file proof of financial responsibility for the next three years. If you cannot do this, you will remain suspended.
What if the other party does not have auto insurance?
If you were in an accident that involved a driver without insurance, you should report the collision to the police and DMV, even if the accident caused damages under $1,500. If injured, you are still eligible for your own auto insurance personal injury protection benefits.
You may also want to consult an attorney about the potential for an uninsured motorist benefits claim.
Legal editor: The Hon. Steven A Todd 2008;
Edited and updated by Jason Posner January 2012.