Being a victim of an auto accident is traumatic and stressful enough as it is. You can minimize the pain and suffering for yourself and all other parties involved by following these 10 essential, yet simple guidelines.

1. Stay calm and try to relax. We understand how hard this is after a traffic accident, as you may experience a shock of emotions – ranging from guilt, fear, nervousness, anger – all of which are expected. Take a few deep breaths-the calmer you are, the better prepared you will be to handle the situation without making rash decisions.

2. Always check for injuries first. Life and health are a higher priority than damage to your vehicle. When in doubt, or if you have suffered an injury, call 911 for medical help from the paramedics.

3. Make sure to keep yourself and others safe. When you cannot get out of your car – or it might not be safe to try – keep your seat belt fastened, turn on your hazard lights, and call 911 and wait for help to arrive.

4. Drive the cars to a safe area away from traffic, as long as the accident is minor and there are no serious injuries. It is less confusing and safer for everyone as long as no one is in the way of incoming traffic.

5. Always call the police, even if the accident is minor. For insurance and legal reasons, it is imperative that an accurate and official police report is kept on file.

6. Never sign any document at the scene of the accident unless it is for the police. Give only the necessary and requested information to law enforcement. Do not volunteer your personal condition, mental state of mind, or anything unrelated to the accident, so you can protect yourself against post-accident legal actions. Any document after the scene of the accident should not be signed unless with the advice of your chosen attorney.

7. Make immediate notes about the accident. This cannot be emphasized enough. Include the specific damage to all vehicles involved. Write every detail down, including whether or not the driver of the other vehicle is the one listed on the vehicle registration and insurance. Leave no important detail to chance.

8. Make sure to obtain witness names and phone numbers. This is critical, because other motorists, passengers, or pedestrians can be important eye witnesses, so be sure to get their identities and contact information.

9. Never admit to the other driver or the police that you think you are at fault, even if you think you are. Do not accuse the other driver of being at fault during this time, as everyone is usually shaken up at the scene of an accident. Refrain from hysterics and wisely state only the facts. Limit your discussion of the accident to the police and your attorney. Be honest even if the facts are embarrassing or detrimental to you.

10. Photograph the accident scene if you can. It is always a good idea to keep a disposable camera in your glove compartment in case of emergencies, though nowadays, the camera in your phone is more than sufficient.