Traffic accidents happen to even the best drivers, but knowing what to do after a mishap can reduce the stress of the event and get you back on the road.
By Terri Blazell
After a relaxing vacation in Palm Desert, California, George and Helga Dumas, F110246, were on their way home to Goleta, California, in their 38-foot Alfa See Ya! motorhome. George rounded a curve on State Route 126 and noticed a semi truck ahead in what looked like a jackknifed position at the side of the road. Instinctively, George slowed down, but this time even a good driving habit wasn’t enough. Right before George’s eyes, the driver suddenly swung the truck into a U-turn, blocking all four lanes of the roadway. With no place to turn and not enough distance to stop, the motorhome ran into the side of the truck. Although the couple’s motorhome was traveling less than 10 miles per hour upon impact, the entire front cap and windshield were destroyed.
Accidents happen, even to the best drivers. Defensive driving goes a long way in helping to prevent accidents, but sometimes it isn’t enough. Keeping a cool head and knowing what to do next can take the sting out of bad situations. Here are some helpful guidelines to follow should you be involved in an accident. You may want to cut this article out of the magazine, highlight the important information, and keep it nearby so you’ll have it handy in case you ever need it.
Start by planning for an accident before it happens. Create an accident kit and keep it in your glove box or near the cockpit so you can get to it quickly. Begin with a gallon-size resealable plastic bag. Fill it with a disposable camera, several pens, and multiple copies of the Accident Report Form, which lists information you should collect at the scene of the accident.
Being in an accident can make folks nervous and forgetful. A chart such as this assures that you’ve taken down all the information you will need to report to your insurance company and in any subsequent police reports. It’s also a good idea to fill one out ahead of time with your own information and then make several copies. It will speed things up and get you on your way sooner.
Once an accident occurs, stop right where you are. Sometimes additional damage can be prevented by assessing the situation before moving the vehicle, even to the side of the road. Backing up, away from the collision points, may lessen the damage to one or both vehicles. This happened to me. While driving my motorhome, I misjudged a turn in an RV park and sideswiped the corner of another coach. Had I stopped immediately, I may have prevented what happened next. I continued past the coach in an attempt to clear the roadway and in doing so caused the other coach’s windshield to crack due to the additional stress. Backing my coach up or allowing the owners of the motorhome to move their vehicle would have prevented the additional damage.
If you are involved in an accident on a public road, turn on your hazard warning lights and check to see whether anyone is injured in your vehicle. If it is safe to do so, exit the motorhome and find out whether anyone in the other vehicle(s) is injured. Should someone be injured, call 911 immediately and ask for an ambulance to be sent. Assist the injured person as much as possible until help arrives, but never move the person; doing so could cause further injury.
Whenever an accident occurs on a public road, call the police. Laws differ from place to place, and if you’re traveling in unfamiliar territory you probably won’t know the specific regulations for that locale. Err on the side of caution and call to see whether police response is necessary. If the accident occurs on private property, such as a campground or parking lot, police response may not be necessary unless someone has been injured or the damage to one or more vehicles is extensive. Always call for police assistance if the accident occurs at night; if you are a female driving alone; if the other person involved makes you uncomfortable or if he or she appears intoxicated or otherwise impaired; or if the accident seems staged. Even if the police do not respond to your accident, it is likely that you will have to file an accident report with the police department within a certain time period. Find out from the local police department or highway patrol what is required of you.
Once it’s determined that everyone involved is okay and the police have been called, take some pictures of the vehicles in the accident position. Include shots of the road around you, especially if it includes skid marks or accident-related debris. Remember, do this only if it is safe, meaning neither vehicle is blocking traffic. It is rare that you will be able to do this, but sometimes it is possible. Otherwise, wait until the vehicles have been moved to the side of the road to then take pictures. Include pictures of all sides of the vehicles, even the sides that were not damaged. This gives your insurer a good idea of the original overall condition of the vehicles and can prevent claims of more damage than really occurred.
If the accident wasn’t your fault, it may be easy to become accusatory or angry, but this isn’t the place for it. Stay calm, pull out your Accident Report Form, and start exchanging information. Never take blame or make any statement about the accident to anyone other than the police or your insurance representative. Let the insurance companies “” or the police “” determine who was at fault. Be gracious and stay calm even if the other driver isn’t. Remind him or her that you are making a full report to your insurance company.
If your vehicle is immobilized, call for roadside assistance. Roadside assistance may be provided through your insurance company, but a service such as FMCA’s Emergency Roadside Assistance and Technical Referral Program, provided by Coach-Net, is a real added benefit.
Coach-Net is not an insurance company. It is an emergency roadside assistance program that, among other services, will tow your vehicle to the nearest service center. Any RV owner can join; however, FMCA has teamed with Coach-Net to establish a special program just for association members. FMCA’s Emergency Roadside Assistance and Technical Referral Program is a comprehensive 24-hour-a-day program that provides a toll-free number that members can call if their coach becomes disabled “” or if they are in need of other roadside assistance.
The company has a proprietary mapping system that allows a customer service representative to pull up the proper emergency telephone number for whatever area you happen to be in. This is important, because cell phones may be out of range or they may contact the 911 dispatcher from the area that the phone was issued, not necessarily the one where you’ve had your accident. Coach-Net has master-certified Recreation Vehicle Industry Association/Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association technicians available to answer any questions you may have about your RV while you wait for the tow truck to come.
Jessica Ostrander, Coach-Net’s customer service director, offered these suggestions in case of an accident. “Assess your surroundings. Are you safe? Contact Coach-Net. We will send out police if needed, let you talk to a service tech, locate the nearest service facility, and assist you with towing.”
Sheila Trees, vice president of sales at Coach-Net, said the first thing they ask when you call in is, “Are you safe?” Having another person on the other end of the line can ease the stress so you don’t feel like you are dealing with the accident alone.
Once your coach has been towed to a service center, get the names of the tow truck driver and the service person who checks you in. Remove all valuables from your coach.
George Dumas handled his accident well. Though upset, he stayed calm, took pictures, and gathered information. It took approximately three months for him to get his coach completely repaired. Because he had motorhome insurance and the coach was still under warranty, his only out-of-pocket expense was the fuel to travel from the service center and back. When asked whether there was anything he would have done differently, he said he wished he had gathered more information at the scene of the accident and taken more pictures. This is excellent advice from someone who has been there.
Of course, your best defense is to prevent an accident. As in George’s case, not every accident can be avoided, but you can cut the odds of being involved in a traffic mishap by following a few commonsense rules.
Do a safety check before starting the motorhome. Walk around the perimeter of the coach and any vehicle or trailer you might be towing. Look for kids, toys, pets, etc., as well as any open cargo doors or awnings that aren’t latched securely.
Adjust your steering wheel, seat, and mirrors, especially if there are multiple drivers. Make this a habit even though you may have checked the last time you stopped.
Know where your blind spots are when driving.
Don’t mess with the electronics while driving. Finding a new station on the radio, checking the navigation system, or making a call on a cell phone distracts you from driving and is dangerous. It’s more convenient to pull over to the side of the road than it is to end up in an accident.
Don’t drive when you are tired. This is the equivalent to driving drunk. Stop and take a 30-minute nap, even if you’re close to your destination. The consequences of driving while fatigued can be deadly.
Be extra careful when driving at night. Leave plenty of space between you and the vehicle in front of you.
Take a driver’s safety course. FMCA and Aon Recreation Insurance have teamed up to offer a two-session “RV Safe Driving Course” at both of FMCA’s international conventions each year and at many of its area rallies.
Think negative. Although positive thinking is preferable for other areas of your life, when it comes to driving it can be safer to think negative. When you decide that you are not as good a driver as you could be, you will drive more cautiously. Each time you get behind the wheel, remind yourself that today is the day you could be involved in an accident and you will be more apt to drive more safely and prevent one.
A special note about pets. Keep them tethered or caged while driving and especially if you’ve had an accident. Pay attention to the road, not your pet. Do not let it sit in your lap while you are driving. A vehicle can be repaired, but nothing can replace a pet that has been killed or has run away.
Accident Report Form
Multiple copies of an Accident Report Form, which lists information you should collect at the scene of the accident, should be part of your accident kit. The form should contain the following information:
Vehicle Make, Model & Year
License Plate and State
Drivers License #
Vehicle Owner’s Name, Address, and Phone (if different from driver)
State of Issuance
Details of Accident
Name(s)/Badge # of Responding Police