How much information should you share after a car accident?

By Barbara Marquand on June 19th, 2013

Once you've confirmed everyone is safe and out of harm's way after a car accident, it's a good idea to collect information to submit to your insurance company.

But you should be careful about how much information you share, warns the National Association of Insurance Commissioners. State laws vary, but you usually need to provide only your name and the name and phone number of your auto insurance company. Generally you should not provide personal information, such as:

  • Your address

  • Your phone number

  • Your driver's license number

Sharing personal information could put you at risk for identity theft or even put your personal safety in jeopardy. Retailers, for instance, accept driver's license information to verify identity over the phone. After a Social Security number and date of birth, it's the most common way to confirm someone's identity, the NAIC notes.

Giving your address lets identity thieves know where to search your mail or garbage for financial information. Besides, do you really want a perfect stranger to know where you live or how to contact you day or night?

Drivers are confused

However, a lot of consumers think they're obliged to hand over personal details. According to a July 2012 survey by the NAIC:

  • Thirty-eight percent of consumers think they should share their driver's license number with the other driver after an accident, and one in six would let the other driver take a photograph of the license.

  • A quarter of consumers said they would share their home address.

  • Twenty-nine percent said they thought they had to exchange personal phone numbers.

That being said, though, if another driver can't provide the name of the vehicle owner or insurance information, it's appropriate to ask for his or her phone number, address and driver's license number, the NAIC says.

The survey also found that almost 20 percent of consumers believe they should call police after an accident only if there are injuries, but insurance experts recommend you always call police. If officers aren't dispatched, then you should still file an incident report. You should be able to do so online. Your insurance company will ask for a copy to process your claim.

Meanwhile, learn what to do after an accident. Many insurance companies provide smartphone apps that walk you through the process. State Farm's Pocket Agent app, for instance, lets you do everything from sketch and photograph the scene of the accident to submit the claim.

The NAIC offers the free WreckCheck app, available at iTunes and Google Play. For a low-tech alternative, download the NAIC's auto accident checklist and keep a copy of it in your glovebox.

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