Does car insurance cover single vehicle accidents?

If you carry collision and comprehensive coverage on your auto policy, your insurance company may pay to cover the damage from a single car accident, minus your deductible. If you don't carry collision or comprehensive coverage, you'll have to pay for any damage out of pocket. Many single car accidents are considered "at fault," so your insurance company may raise your rate after policy renewal if you decide to file a claim.

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How do single car accidents happen?

A single vehicle crash can happen for a number of reasons, including distracted driving, avoiding a collision with a deer, hitting a dog or other animal in the street, swerving to avoid road debris, or avoiding a collision with another vehicle. Property damage (to the car or surrounding property) is usually the most frequent result of a single car accident, for instance from hitting a telephone pole or colliding with a guardrail.

How does insurance cover single vehicle accidents?

The coverage will depend on the nature of the accident. If the damage is considered preventable, then collision car insurance coverage generally applies. If the damage is considered unavoidable and unexpected, then comprehensive car insurance coverage applies.

For example, if you crash into a telephone pole, it may be covered under collision because the pole's position is fixed and it's easier to swerve away from it. If you run into a deer, however, it may be covered under comprehensive because the deer's movements and location are outside of your control.

Are single car accidents considered my fault?

In many cases, you'll be considered at fault for a single car accident if you were driving. There are some exceptions where the accident may not be ruled your fault, but it will depend on the insurer and the nature of the accident:

Vehicle defect

If your brakes malfunctioned due to a manufacturer's defect or incorrect installation, the manufacturer or mechanic could be considered at fault for the crash instead of you.

Road conditions

If the condition of the road contributed significantly to the single vehicle accident, you may not be considered at fault. This may not apply if you knew the road conditions were bad and didn't slow down or drive accordingly.

Hitting a deer

Because of the unpredictable nature of deer (or other animals that may run into the street), you may not be considered at fault for this type of accident.

Avoiding another accident

If you swerved to avoid another vehicle that was at fault and about to cause an accident, the other driver may be blamed instead of you for forcing you to swerve and avoid the collision.

Student drivers

If a student driver has a crash while operating a driver's ed car with dual controls, the driving instructor may be held responsible or may share responsibility with the student driver, depending on the circumstances of the crash.

Learn more about the difference between at-fault vs. no-fault accidents.

What should I do after a single car accident?

Check to see if everyone is safe

Identify if anyone needs medical attention before doing anything else.

Make sure your car is not a safety hazard

If your car is in danger of being hit by other vehicles, turn the hazard lights on and try to get it off the roadway. If you can't move your vehicle, leave it, and get yourself and everyone else to safety as best you can.

Steer clear of injured wild animals

If you hit an animal and it's wounded, resist the urge to try and help it. Wild animals that are scared and hurt are more likely to harm you if you get too close to them.

Call the police

There can be serious consequences for leaving the scene of an accident, even a minor car accident that doesn't involve anyone but you. If anything is blocking the road because of your accident, let them know.

Document the accident

Take photos of your vehicle and the scene. Write down or record everything you remember about what led up to the accident, the accident itself, and the aftermath. Talk to any witnesses about what they saw, take notes, and ask them for their contact information. The police and your insurance company will want this information. Learn more about what to do after a car accident.

Consider calling roadside assistance

If your car is damaged and too dangerous to drive, a tow truck or roadside assistance can tow it to a mechanic.

Can I leave the scene of a single car accident?

In many states, leaving the scene of a single car accident can result in serious consequences. Since many single vehicle accidents result in property damage, the police will want to investigate and document the incident. Leaving the scene can lead the police to classify the accident as a "hit-and-run.” Depending on your state, there may be some limited circumstances that would justify leaving the scene, such as if remaining there would be dangerous or pose the risk of further injury.

Penalties from leaving the scene may include:

  • Fines and jail time

  • Punitive points on your motor vehicle record

  • Loss of your driver's license

  • Increased auto insurance rates

  • Cancellation of your auto insurance

How can I avoid single vehicle crashes?

Maintain your focus and avoid distractions from your cell phone, instrument panels, and your passengers. Adjust your driving to accommodate poor weather conditions like rain, snow, hail, sleet, and ice, and consider staying off the road when the weather is bad. At dusk and dawn, stay extra vigilant for deer and look for deer crossing signs to indicate more deer activity in the area. Finally, if you're feeling drowsy, avoid driving if possible. If you're already on the road and start to feel sleepy, find a safe place to stop and rest.

Should I file an insurance claim for a single car accident?

If the damage to your car is significant or more than the cost of your deductible, it may make sense to file an auto insurance claim with your insurer. If the damage is minimal and the repairs will cost less than your car insurance deductible, then it may not make sense to file a claim. Since many single vehicle accidents are ruled at fault, it's important to keep in mind that an insurance claim may raise your rate in the future.

Regardless of whether you decide to file a single vehicle accident insurance claim, it's recommended to notify your insurer about the accident right after it occurs. If you were involved in a rental car accident, you'll need to notify the rental agency, too, even if you're filing a claim through your personal car insurance.

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