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Some traffic incidents cause heart pounding reactions, like stolen cars, car crashes, and near-misses. Unsurprisingly, hit-and-runs can be one of the most upsetting.

When a driver hits a pedestrian, property or another car, or causes a collision, and then either flees the scene or doesn’t provide truthful information, it’s a hit-and-run. In these scenarios, information is your best asset. Knowing what to do ahead of time might even help you track down the culprit.

Our insurance expert, Neil Richardson, explains what to do when you’re the victim of a hit-and-run.

1. Pull Over Safely

Don’t attempt to chase or apprehend the culprit, as this can make the situation exponentially worse.

2. Once Parked, Call the Police Immediately

Failing to contact the police, even if you don’t have a description or license plate number of the vehicle that hit you, can result in your insurance company dragging out the claims process or denying it altogether.

3. Gather Evidence

You can see this Car Crash Checklist for a step-by-step guide after a wreck. When faced with a hit-and-run, it can be particularly important to take pictures of your vehicle showing the damage from all necessary angles, as well as pictures of the area where the incident occurred. Aim for image quality over quantity.

You should also write down everything you can remember: what happened immediately before and after the collision, and any details about the other vehicle. The license plate number is most important, though it isn’t always easy to get. Having the plate number makes it much more likely your deductible will be reimbursed by your insurer. Situations like these are when a dash cam would really come in handy!

4. Look for Witnesses

It’s a good idea to write down their stories and contact information. Even if you saw or experienced the hit-and-run, witnesses are still important to back up your version of events.

If a witness wrote down the license plate number of the person who hit your car, you can file a police report. You should also submit the plate number to your insurer, who would then try to recover your deductible costs from the responsible party.

5. Contact Your Insurance Company

After filing the police report, you will want to file a claim with your insurance company if you have the right coverage.

  • To have damage from a hit-and-run covered (whether you were involved in a collision or your car was damaged while you weren’t present), you’ll need to have either uninsured motorist property damage coverage (UMPD)or collision coverage. UMPD is not available in all states and does not cover hit-and-run damage in Ohio, Louisiana, Georgia, California, Illinois or Colorado.
  • If you have either of these types of coverage, you’ll likely have to pay the deductible to get the repair process started, but you may be reimbursed if your insurer or the police find the driver who hit you. If you don’t have UMPD coverage or collision coverage, you’ll generally be stuck paying for the damage out of pocket, and if the other driver isn’t caught, you won’t be reimbursed.

If Your Car Was Damaged When You Weren’t Present

Arriving at your car to find it damaged in some way — broken windshield, side-swiped doors, even signs of vandalism — is disheartening, to say the least. And, unfortunately, in these types of situations, being reimbursed is complicated and, sadly, unlikely.

The best thing to do is try to gather any information you can about the culprit. Take similar steps as if you had been present: Document the damage and ask anyone in the area if they saw anything (pedestrians, shop owners, etc). Then, if you have UMPD or collision coverage, file a claim with your insurance company. But, says Richardson, without the license plate number, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to hold anyone responsible for the damage.

An Especially Nasty Type of Hit and Run

Perhaps the most insidious type of hit and run is the one in which you think you’re dealing with an honest and forthright person, but later realize all the info they gave you — from their name to their insurance details — is fabricated. This situation is unfortunately all too common. We spoke with a victim of such an event, New York-area driver, Alex, who told us about his very first accident at age 17. Alex described the scene:

“I was passing through a big intersection, and another driver ran his red light and hit the back of my car as he attempted to merge into my lane. We both pulled over, he was apologetic, and we both wrote down each other’s info: license number, names, addresses and insurance details. But we didn’t call the police. Later, when my insurance company tried to contact his, we found out all his info was fake, and the license plate wasn’t even registered.”

Alex and his family ended up paying for all the repairs themselves.

It’s clear from Alex’s story that calling the police is a must — even if no one is injured and the damage seems minimal. Taking pictures will also help in this type of situation — of the other car, the other occupants, and of the scene and location of each car. And, if the other driver tries to talk you into accepting cash for repairs instead of calling the police, it’s a bad idea to accept! Situations like these are why uninsured motorist coverage can be incredibly helpful.

Remember, if you’re looking to apply for car insurance, it’s a good idea to know where your credit stands before you do, as this will determine what terms and conditions you may qualify for. You can view two of your credit scores, updated each month, for free on Credit.com.

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