Vehicles

The Big Crunch: You’ve Just Had A Major Accident— What Do You Do Now?

Jim Luff
Posted on September 17, 2010
Since an accident can happen at any time, you must have someone available to respond at all times.
Since an accident can happen at any time, you must have someone available to respond at all times.

Those are chilling words. They cause chaos, fear and uncertainty to collide in your brain. The first thought is always, "How bad is it?" You never really know until you arrive at the accident scene and see the carnage and evaluate the severity yourself. Having our company involved in three major crashes in the past 20 years, my best advice is, don't panic. I would like to share what I have learned.

1. Maintaining Your Head
While it may seem that your world is falling apart, managers must maintain orderly control. Employees will look for direction on what steps to take. There will be many decisions to make in the next few hours that will require clear thinking. We have an obligation to our passengers and chauffeurs to lead them and make decisions with them. You will face insurance claims, police reports, accident reports, towing requests, and many other chores. And this doesn't include what to do internally about jobs you had scheduled for the vehicle and chauffeur that day. When the call comes in just remember to take a deep breath and begin to execute your plan.

2. Delegating Personnel
Having a plan in place and one or two alternate people to execute the plan on your behalf is the best way to avoid chaos. Since an accident can happen at any time, you must have someone available to respond at all times. One person cannot be delegated. Part of the plan is making sure that each responder has written plan instructions, a camera, and an accident kit. They also must have the authority to make decisions on behalf of the company such as where to tow the vehicle to and from the scene.

3. The Aftermath
Once back at the office there will be many more details that must be attended to. Whenever possible, your chauffeur should be "debriefed" on the accident. Remember that major accidents are a traumatizing life event and the memory of what happened may become distorted. As soon as practically possible and convenient, have the chauffeur explain every detail remembered in the moments before, during, and after the crash. Take detailed notes, and if anything appears amiss, clarify the answer. These notes may be useful if called years later to testify in court about small details.

Review any video captured on in-car camera systems. Remember that after a traumatic day, your chauffeur may need to be chauffeured home.

4. Handling Documents
Inevitably, there will be many documents including police reports, insurance claim paperwork, drug test results, medical reports, and other paperwork associated with the accident. An excellent method for keeping track of everything in a single place is to create a binder with tabs.

5. Post-accident Contacts

  • Your insurance agent: Discuss various policies involved such as auto liability and workers comp.
  • Insurance claims hotlines if requested by agent
  • Drug testing facility for copy of test results
  • Attempt to return any property left behind by passengers


6. Other Considerations
If you are a DOT registered carrier, you must update your DOT accident log as required by DOT regulations. You must report any substantial accident to your state motor vehicle department. In most cases the investigating law enforcement agency will automatically do this for you. Be sure to obtain a copy of the completed police report as soon as it is ready and forward it to your insurance company. Provide your chauffeur with a copy of it as well.

Handling Media
Anytime a limousine service is involved in a major collision it tends to get the attention of the media. Be prepared to respond to media requests with a brief statement. Failure to make any statement may make your company appear to be hiding something.

Suggested Media Statement
ABC Limousine Company was involved in an unfortunate accident today. Our main focus and concern continues to be on our passengers and our chauffeur. The chauffeur operating the vehicle has been employed with us for "X years" and is considered an excellent employee. We have no other information at this time but thank you for your concern.

Education and Training
Free training is available from the Occupational Safety and Health Organization (OSHA). The online training is self paced and a certificate of completion is awarded for a successful completion of a final exam. The recommended courses available at www.oshtrain.org include:

  • Effective Accident Investigation
  • Fleet Safety Management

Learn the basics of starting an investigation, scene documentation, effective witness interviews, and most importantly, determining the cause of an accident to develop a solution. You will also learn to write a comprehensive report and document information.

The Plan
First, you must enlist the aid of others to help execute the plan

  • Get the exact location of the accident
  • Get information on injuries
  • Notify law enforcement
  • Do not assume someone else has or will call to report
  • Even if the chauffeur has called, verify they are responding
  • Provide the chauffeur with instructions
  • Do not give any statements to anyone except law enforcement
  • Be as brief as possible and answer only yes or no when possible
  • Locate the accident kit in the car and provide witness cards to bystanders
  • Provide witness cards to passengers
  • Begin documenting the scene using the accident kit as soon as possible
  • Determine status of passengers and if transportation is needed
  • Notify key employees for response to the scene
  • Dispatch another vehicle if needed for continued transportation
  • Notify chauffeur's spouse and provide transportation if desired/needed
  • Delegate someone familiar with the vehicle to order a tow truck
  • Have a predetermined auto body repair facility 
  • Notify the body repair facility of the expected vehicle
  • Respond to the scene for documentation
  • Advise law enforcement of any tow service you have ordered
  • Photograph the scene from all angles 
  • Photograph all vehicles involved
  • Photograph skid marks and debris field
  • Photograph rear license plates of all vehicles involved
  • Collect witness cards distributed by chauffeur
  • Complete additional diagram if chauffeur's version is not sufficient
  • Provide any information needed to law enforcement on scene
  • Obtain a case number and the investigating officer's badge number
  • Make sure the chauffeur and vehicle are cleared to leave before doing so
  • Take possession of any luggage or personal items left in the vehicle
  • Make immediate arrangements for them to be delivered to your passengers
  • If your passengers were transported by ambulance, you must safeguard their possessions
  • Refer chauffeur for medical help if needed or desired or if a drug/alcohol test is required
  • Have a predetermined industrial medical clinic arrangement
  • Coverage arrangements
  • Cover chauffeur's schedule for as long as anticipated
  • Cover vehicle's assignments for as long as anticipated

Related Topics: accident reporting, driver safety, emergency preparedness

Jim Luff Contributing Editor
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