As a driver, you’ve got a one in 44 chance of being in a car accident this year – and that’s not even including your odds as a passenger

With close to 50,000 traffic collisions in BC (ICBC pdf) each year, car accidents can really crash the party – not to mention your health and well-being. While defensive driving can help you avoid collisions, here’s what to do if you find yourself in a car accident.

What to Do at the Scene of a Car Accident in BC

Assess Injuries
Check yourself and others for injuries. Panic and shock may cause you to downplay injuries. Call 9-1-1 if anyone is hurt. “If in doubt, get to a hospital for X-rays to check for any bone injuries,” says Lyndal Solomons, a physiotherapist with Canopy Integrated Health.

If it’s safe, move your car where it’s okay to stop. See if it’s safe to get out of the car.

Exchange Information
Get names and contact information for the other people involved in the car accident and any witnesses. Take photos and jot down what happened, including:

  • Basics – date, time, location
  • Other driver(s)’s license number and province, contact information, car make and model, insurance details, license plate number
  • Other people – any other people injured or involved in the accident, such as cyclists
  • Witnesses – contact information for any witnesses
  • Accident situation – weather, speed limits, road signs, road conditions, what you were doing, what your car was doing and so on. You can draw a picture of the accident or record details on this claims card from ICBC (pdf).

Cooperate with the Police
Tell your story so that your details are included in the police report. If you are too hurt to speak, make sure you contact the police later.

Dealing with the Aftermath of a Car Accident

Watch for Additional Injuries
See a doctor to detect overlooked injuries and show that you have taken steps to mitigate your injuries. “If you're not worried about broken bones, get to your GP as soon as possible afterwards to have them check you over, create a formal record of all the areas that are giving you trouble -- for insurance purposes, in particular -- and discuss the appropriate use of anti-inflammatories and painkillers,” says Solomons.

Consider Seeking a Car Accident Lawyer
Most car accident lawyers will provide a free consultation. The time after a car accident can be stressful and overwhelming. By talking to some car accident lawyers about your rights, you can be more confident that you’ll make decisions that best reflect your needs and ensure that your rights will be respected. After all, if you or someone else was hurt in a car accident, it’s a personal injury case.

In general, lawyers will work on contingency, meaning you won’t need to pay any fees upfront. The knowledge and experience they can lend to your case can mean that you receive more of the insurance coverage to which you’re entitled. That can include compensation for medical costs, time off work, pain and suffering, loss of homemaking capacity and more.

Once you sign with a law firm, you won’t have to worry about negotiating directly with an insurance adjustor – the personal injury lawyer will filter all communications for you. Even if you choose not to hire a law firm, the few minutes invested in free consultations may give you the knowledge and clarity to more confidently negotiate your own claim.

Track Costs or Inconveniences Resulting from the Accident
Jot down details on towing costs, transportation home, time off work, pain and discomfort, household management time lost and so on. Keep any receipts or e-mails in a file.

File a Claim with ICBC or Your Insurer
Make your claim in a timely manner – but it’s okay to seek medical attention and call a few lawyers before making your claim.

After-injury Care and Rehab

Your doctor will give you information on after-injury care and dealing with pain and suffering and can also refer you to other professionals for rehab.

Solomons recommends icing areas of pain for 20 minutes every two hours for the first 72 hours to control inflammation and pain. After that, use heat or ice. “For the first four days, resume normal activities without provoking any pain,” says Solomons. “After four days, continue to resume normal activities and allow pain as tolerated.” She encourages accident victims to start physiotherapy within the first four days.

Typical injury rehab options include rest, hot and cold, pain medication, physiotherapy, massage therapy and exercise.

"Physiotherapists will assess your injuries, educate you regarding what to do and not do, get you started on appropriate exercises, use therapeutic modalities to control pain and stimulate tissue healing and introduce manual therapy treatments as appropriate,” says Solomons. “In an ongoing way, your physiotherapist will gradually progress your therapy and exercises as appropriate for the stage of your recovery. The length of time you will need management will depend on your rate of recovery, but will likely be at least six weeks."

Coping with Long-term Personal Injuries

Some people suffer the effects of a car accident for much longer. "If people have pre-existing injuries,” says Shaun Karp of Karp Rehabilitation in Burnaby, “the trauma of an accident pushes them over the edge.”

He notes that bad posture, rounded shoulders, a weak core and previous car accident injuries put people at higher risk of injury. “If we were all strong and had great posture, accidents wouldn’t affect us that much.”

Karp advocates for active rehabilitation, where a kinesiologist leads you through exercises, stretching and strengthening. In doing so, you can restore range of motion, balance joints and stabilize your body. "The longer you’re injured, the longer it takes to get better," he notes. "The real solution for most people is to maintain a certain level of activity."