Unfortunately — even if you have a lucky charm hanging from your rearview mirror — car accidents are an everyday occurance. Hundreds of traffic accidents happen across the country every day. While there’s no way to drive one hundred percent risk-free, many of them are avoidable. Even though you can’t control other drivers, you can definitely do your best to educate yourself on why car accidents happen and how to react when one does.

Surprisingly, the number one cause of car accidents isn’t an inherently criminal activity. It’s distracted driving. That includes anything that causes a driver to divert their attention from the road, including eating food, reaching for an object, or applying makeup. Using a cell phone also falls under distracted driving, but many states have created laws specifically prohibiting the use of cell phones while operating a vehicle. Other common causes of car accidents include reckless driving (speeding, tailgating, changing lanes rapidly,) driving under the influence (alcohol, drugs,) disobeying traffic laws (running red lights, running stop signs,) and unsafe weather conditions (snow, ice.)

Regardless of the cause or who is at fault, if you find yourself in a car accident, here are the first steps to take.

  1. Check yourself for any injuries that are immediately apparent. If you haven’t been seriously injured, you can proceed through the following steps. If you have, stay where you are and wait for emergency personnel.
  2. Find a safe place and remain at the scene. Move to a less dangerous location like a sidewalk or parking lot. If your car is causing a traffic hazard and is still driveable, pull over to the shoulder.
  3. Call the police. This is especially important if there is significant damage to the vehicle(s) and/or injuries, but many states require a police report in order to file an insurance claim.
  4. Exchange information with the other drivers. Avoid discussing fault, and collect things like contact information, insurance information, license plate numbers, and vehicle information.
  5. Start documenting the accident. Take pictures, get a copy of the accident report, talk to anyone who witnessed the accident, and record of any medical treatments you recieve.
  6. Let your insurance company know. This will begin the claims process.

From there, you may want to contact a personal injury attorney like the professionals at Lampert & Walsh if you were injured during the accident. Your attorney will help you assess proper compensation and evaluate any settlement offers that come from an insurance company so that you can focus on what’s important — recovering.