Before you graduate you should probably know…

Kelly Skahan

For better or for worse, most students living on campus don’t have a car at school. While this often complicates getting to and from home, the grocery store or the mall, it does have its pluses; gas prices aren’t much of an issue, there’s no need to pay for a parking pass and you’re a lot less likely to get into a car accident when you don’t actually have a car.

After graduation (and even junior year), your car becomes a legitimate option again, and along with it comes all the trials and travails of car ownership. While we’ve all had to fill our gas tanks and wash our cars, some college students are lucky enough to have never been in a fender-bender before. Attentive and responsible driving can prevent the majority of collisions, but sooner or later, most of us will deal with a dent or two. Needless to say, it’s important to be prepared when that situation inevitably arises.

First, take a deep breath. Almost everyone gets into an accident at some point, and the majority of those accidents are relatively minor in the grand scheme of things. That being said, the first priority after an accident is to make sure you and all of your passengers are all right. In case of an emergency, it goes without saying that you should contact emergency services.

After you’re sure everyone is OK, get your insurance information ready. In this case, being prepared is the best way to get out of an accident with as little stress as possible. Always keep your insurance information and registration in your glove compartment. When you know exactly where it is, you won’t worry during an accident that you’ll face a fine for not having it available. Having a camera phone is also handy. You can take pictures of the accident, the intersection or road where the collision occurred and the damage to both cars in case you need to provide information for insurance purposes later. If you don’t have a camera phone, toss a disposable camera into your glove compartment.

Pull to the shoulder of the road if possible so traffic can continue past you, and if it’s safe to exit the car, meet the other driver and exchange phone numbers, insurance numbers and driver’s license information. Even if you’re sure who’s at fault in the accident, calling the police is usually the best way to document the collision for insurance.

The police will likely ask a few questions from each driver separately about what happened, draw a picture of the site and formally file the report with the police department. Many insurance companies require a police report when you file a claim, and it helps to have official documentation should one of the drivers change his or her story later.

Regardless of the degree of damage, contact your insurance. If the accident wasn’t your fault, most states have laws that will protect you from a jump in your insurance rate, and insurance representatives will often do a lot of the legwork for you when it comes to negotiating with the other driver’s insurance company. If you end up going to the doctor for whiplash or another injury, it helps to make sure your insurance company is aware of the accident when it comes to co-payments at the doctor and other fees.