What you have to reveal at an accident scene
You've just been involved in a fender bender. Police are on the way. Meanwhile, what information do you have to exchange with the other driver?
That answer varies by state.
In Florida, for instance, state law requires drivers to share name, address, contact details, driver's license number, license plate number and auto insurance information. In New York it's more of the same, plus if the driver's name is different from the name on the insurance card or registration, you're supposed to provide the name of the person who owns the car or who holds the insurance policy.
In California you're supposed to show your driver's license, vehicle registration card, evidence of financial responsibility and current address to the other driver or persons involved.
But state laws can defy common sense. Is it really wise to hand a stranger your driver's license in this age of identity theft?
"First of all, nobody says you even have to get out of your car in the middle of the road with cars buzzing all around you and put your life at risk and potentially be assaulted or carjacked," says Robert Siciliano, an identity theft expert with McAfee.
He says in the commotion of an accident scene, caution is often thrown out the window. People can get into heated arguments over who is at fault, or a rear-end collision could be a scam to steal your personal information.
"If you ever feel your life is in danger or it's a potential carjacking, stay in the vehicle or even drive to the closest police department."
Siciliano recommends pulling to the far right of the road, out of traffic, and if you don't feel safe getting out of the car, you can talk out of the window. Make sure someone has dialed 911 immediately.
What to do after a car accident
A survey conducted for the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) found that many people don't know the minimal information they are supposed to share with the other driver in an accident. And sharing too much - say, your home address -- could put your personal information at risk.
Forty percent of survey respondents thought they should share their driver's licenses; one in six would even allow the other driver to photograph his or her license as a means of exchanging that information. Twenty-five percent of drivers had no qualms sharing their home address; while 30 percent thought they were required to tell their phone numbers.
An NAIC spokesperson warns drivers to exchange information only with a police presence. Don't just hand over your personal information to the other party. No matter what state you live in, you shouldn't allow the other person to photograph your driver's license and you absolutely should never give out your home address, says the spokesperson.
"Really all you need to provide the other driver is your name and the name of your insurance company with a claims phone number," says Siciliano.
The NAIC has developed a free smartphone app for both iPhone and Android models to guide victims through the accident reporting process. WreckCheck has a checklist for what to do immediately following an auto accident. It takes users through a step-by-step process to create their own accident report. Plus, it provides tips for what to exchange, and makes it easy to capture photos of the damage for an insurance claim, and to email the report to your insurance carrier.
Always call 911 after a car accident
Siciliano notes that if someone is taking photos of your license plate with their phone there's nothing you can do, but he cautions that you never have to hand over anything directly to the other driver. Hand it instead to law enforcement. Once a police officer is there, he will write a report and you'll share your information with a law enforcement officer rather than directly with the other person. That's one of the main reasons to call the police even if the damage is minimal and no one has been injured. Always call 911.
The last thing most people are thinking about right after an accident is identity theft, but it's a real possibility these days, even when the crash is not a staged accident meant to steal your information.
If you feel something is inappropriate about an accident or its aftermath, let the police know and inform your auto insurance company immediately, Siciliano says.