“You good to go?” I heard Ed Sheeran ask, and I instinctively reached to turn up “Everything Has Changed” by him and Taylor Swift. It’s ironic that this song was playing on the day that everything changed for me, at 17-and-a-half years old, although not in the way Taylor intended. I heard her sing “I know something” just seconds before the loud crunching of metal pierced the air. 

I thought over the preceding moments. I had started through the two-way intersection at Forest and Seneca streets where I did not have a stop sign. I noticed a car approaching from my left. She’s going to stop, I told myself repeatedly. Unfortunately she did not. Instead, she plowed straight ahead at full speed, and within seconds crashed into the left side of my car.

What happened next challenged me to trust myself and my story, remain calm and collected, and respond in a mature manner. Through my mistakes (and successes), I learned how to respond to a car accident. If you ever find yourself in a situation similar to mine, here are four steps you should follow. And if you don’t believe me, still take my advice because the Insurance Information Institute says to essentially follow the same steps.

1. Remain calm and assess injuries

Right after the crash, I pulled off to the side of the road and took a little bit of time to pull myself together. 

This was also when I assessed my physical wellbeing. If you feel any severe injuries, you should call 911 immediately. Reassess throughout the day and go to the doctor if needed. If there are passengers in the car, check in with them and see if they are alright.

2. Exchange information

When you’re ready, it’s time to get out of the car and face the other driver. The interaction will likely not be the most pleasant of conversations, but I can almost guarantee that it is one you will always remember. 

If you’re someone like me who did not know where to locate their registration, this is a great time to call your parents or guardians. I was terrified to call my dad, as I worried that he would be mad at me for totaling the car. He was not. He was just happy to hear that I was ok. ​​At the end of the day, a car is replaceable, but a human being is not. Remind yourself of this and make the call.

Do not, under any circumstances, jump to blame or accuse the other driver of fault. Treat them like you would treat any human being — with respect and decency. Take photos of their license and registration, as well as any damage to your car and theirs. These photos will be very important so make sure to save them to favorites. If you have friends like mine, you may end up with a photo of you crying in your totaled car. Favorite that one too, just for the heck of it.

3. Call 911

Once the police arrive, you are in for a treat. They will first ask each driver (and passengers) if they are okay, and then to describe what happened. Try to tell it exactly as you remember, and please tell the truth. 

Before the police officer leaves, they will most likely ask if you want an accident report filed. They may scare you with talk of one point being docked, and the accident being put on your permanent record, but this is an important step in case the other driver sues for damages or medical injuries. Learn from my mistake, and have the report written.

4. Trust the process

My final advice is to get back to driving as soon as you can. The process will be hard and it may even make you wish you had never learned to drive. However, once you get through it, things will get better — at least it did for me. 

Depending on the severity of the accident, you may have some trauma and it may be hard — the first time I got behind the wheel again, I cried. 

But, the more I’ve gotten back into it, the easier it has become. And it will get easier for you, too, at least I can hope. And ideally if you’re like me, you can find your love of driving again because it truly is a beautiful thing.