Deconstructing a Fender Bender

Accidents happen. Here's the drill if one happens to you.
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Let's talk car accidents -- hopefully you haven't had one. I was reminded of this I'd-rather-not-think-about-it subject as I was walking through the

New York International Auto Show

. An exhibit of a

Volvo

in a "safety" crash gave me a case of accident anxiety. I much preferred the display of

Mario Andretti's

sleek, 1994

Indy 500

racecar. Do they insure those things?

It also reminded me of my most recent accident. It happened on a rainy, partially foggy early morning about three years ago. I was getting coffee and a bagel from my favorite country deli. Somehow I missed seeing the

Honda

Accord as I pulled onto the two-lane country road. It was going the same direction I was, and all of a sudden it was too late to avoid crunching into the front left of the car.

At that moment, I knew I would be renewing my friendship with my insurance company. I got out of my car and rushed over to find the driver a little upset. I profusely apologized to her and confessed my guilt immediately. No attorney would have been proud of me at that moment. I guess my mother had more influence at the time.

The woman seemed to be OK, and we were able to pull the cars off the road out of everybody's way (Action 1). (This could get irritating, but I am going to underscore the important actions as I go along.) The woman agreed that I should go into the deli and call the police. You always want a cop at the scene of an accident (Action 2). Later on, you will need a copy of the police accident report (Action 3). While we were waiting for the police to arrive, the woman and I agreed to exchange information. Opening my glove compartment, I worked my way to the bottom and found the "Instructions for Accident Information Form" (Action 4). I think every insurance company supplies this. Unfortunately, they don't all end up in the glove compartment. She didn't have one.

Starting to get a little more respect from the woman, I showed her the two parts of my form, explaining that we each fill one out. The cards asked for the following information: accident date, time, location, police officer's name and car number, details on any ticket issues, details on the vehicles involved, names and addresses, driver's license numbers, details on injuries and insurance company details.

It was important to take our time to complete all the information. With some accidents you can't take the time, especially if there are injuries. Calling an ambulance could be the most important action (Action 5).

We completed the cards and had exchanged them just as the police officer arrived. He asked if everybody was OK. She did admit to having a bit of a headache. A little pain and suffering always seem to accompany an accident at some point. I think it is important to make a few more notes regarding the physical and emotional condition of the people involved in an accident (Action 6). I immediately explained to the officer that we had exchanged cards and that this was an honest accident, for which I took blame. Generally, you shouldn't volunteer this kind of information if there is any question about who did what to whom. That is one of the purposes of insurance companies, attorneys and courts. The officer commented that I must have some experience to have organized this information so well. I simply said, "No comment." Sometimes it is better not to take too much credit for something. He then took his time in obtaining all the information he needed to complete the accident report.

He also gave us each a copy of the form "Request to Purchase a Photocopy of a Police Accident Report" (Action 7). It explained that I had to enclose a check for $10 in a self-addressed stamped envelope. This two-part form is the cheapest part of having an accident. The officer has to complete Part A, and the person requesting the photocopy must complete Part B.

After completing all of the above actions, I assured the other driver that as soon as I got to my office I would call my insurance company (Action 8). After that, I promised to call her with further information.

Next week I will continue my experiential lessons about car insurance. We'll take a look at some of the things on the first couple of pages of a policy. For instance, what does the 100/300/50 formula really mean? Have you ever opened an umbrella in a policy? It's not only the risks in the stock market, but the daily risks of life that are important to understand.

If you have suffered any accidents, fires, thefts and lawsuits, please

email me about your experience. Thanks and have a profitable, healthy week!

Vern Hayden is a certified financial planner with American Planning Group in Westport, Conn. His column is not a recommendation to buy or sell stocks or to solicit transactions or clients. Under no circumstances does the information in this column represent a recommendation to buy or sell stocks or funds. While he cannot provide investment advice or recommendations, Hayden welcomes your feedback at

Hayden@cwixmail.com.