That cringe-worthy "crunch" when you back up into another car in a crowded parking lot. That jolting jerk when you're hit from behind at a stop light. That scary feeling of time standing still when you skid into a snowbank. These are the moments you realize your day just got a whole lot worse.

Car accidents are on the rise. And if you've ever been in one, you know that it's not only frightening, but also downright disruptive to your life. From dealing with the auto repair shop and rental car agency, to spending time on the phone with your insurance company (yes, we get it), the hassle and expense of an accident's aftermath can add insult to possible injury. A new survey by Esurance reveals that it's common for drivers to spend more than $1,000 out-of-pocket and 20-plus hours handling post-accident issues. That's a lot of money and time, considering 77 percent of drivers have been in at least one accident. And the average driver will be in 3 or 4 in a lifetime.

What's more, we're making it harder on ourselves than it needs to be and missing vital steps that could make the whole process a lot less painful. Here's what our survey uncovered, plus a few tips for drivers on how to get back on the road quicker after a collision — and save a few bucks in the process.

Accidents take a big toll on drivers' time and finances

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates the economic impact of car crashes to be a staggering $871 billion annually. Even for those drivers with insurance, dealing with an accident can be unexpectedly costly and time-consuming, regardless of the cause or circumstance. In fact, two-thirds of drivers who've experienced an accident were not even personally at fault, but still spent valuable time and money post-accident.

So where does that time typically go? For starters:

  • 85 percent of people who've experienced any type of accident have had to repair or replace their vehicle. That means waiting for a mechanic and possibly dealing with a car rental or finding alternative transportation.
  • Even minor fender benders (38 percent of our respondents experienced only minor damage) typically require repairs. And the nationwide average for repair time is more than 10 days, according to Mitchell, a collision data company.
  • On the other hand, some repairs can be much more extensive, or even impossible. 35 percent have had their cars deemed "totaled," due to irreparable damage or repair costs that exceed the value of the car. And we all know how time-consuming car-shopping can be.

Time consuming post-accident tasks drivers faced following an accident

post accident tasks graphic post accident tasks graphic

Source: 2018 Esurance Accident Survey

But tasks like these don't only require time. They also cost money, and potentially lots of it. Part of that expense can come from replacing more expensive car parts (and if you don't have collision coverage, that expense could be on you). While today's high-tech cars help drivers avoid some accidents and reduce the severity of collisions, they're also more expensive to fix and replace. Consider this: the average cost of a traditional bumper replacement is $300 to $700. But when that bumper includes built-in sensors and cameras, it can cost more than $1,000.

Out-of-pocket accident costs estimated by drivers

20%

27%

53%

None

$1,000 or more

Less than $1,000

Source: 2018 Esurance Accident Survey

It pays to do your homework. Literally. Our survey found that those who experienced lower out-of-pocket costs (less than $1,000) were 62 percent more likely to have researched repair costs than those who shelled out more than $1,000. Arming yourself with information can help you get a fair price for repairs and file a more accurate insurance claim.

"People don't have a good sense of what it'll cost to repair a car until they've been in a crash," says Eric Brandt, chief claims officer at Esurance. "Repairs vary greatly based on the type of car and built-in tech. So sharing these details with your insurance company can help you get the coverage you need to avoid out-of-pocket expenses."

Drivers are missing vital post-accident steps that could help minimize the burden

In the immediate aftermath of an accident, it's normal to feel overwhelmed and like everything is out of your control. And that may be why our research shows that most drivers are making critical missteps following a crash (though 85 percent think they're doing all the right things).

Common post-accident missteps

58%

Failing to file a police report

56%

Not documenting the damage

38%

Forgetting to exchange contact info

29%

Saying you're fine before seeing a doctor

22%

Not calling a insurance company

21%

Saying "sorry," which may insinuate fault

Source: 2018 Esurance Accident Survey

Here are some important things to do after a car accident that can help reduce the hassle:

  • Seek the help of authorities. Only 42 percent of our respondents talked to the police after their incidents. And, of respondents who suffered injuries in an accident, fewer than half (47 percent) sought medical attention. Police and medical professionals are there to help after an accident — use them! Especially in more serious accidents or if there are injuries, be sure to file police reports and get checked out by a doctor.

    This is a critical step, according to Erin Sauber-Schatz, PhD, of the Transportation Team at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). "The chain of events after a crash that causes an injury are important for the best possible outcomes of patient recovery," she says.

    And the proper documentation from authorities could also go a long way in getting the reimbursement you deserve.

  • Document the accident properly. More than half (56 percent) of our respondents never collected documentation after an accident. And 38 percent forgot to exchange information with the other driver — steps that could've saved them time and money down the road.

    Taking photos can serve as evidence to make the process of filing a police report and an insurance claim easier and more accurate (and maybe even faster). Grab your smartphone and snap a few pics at the scene, including the position of the vehicles, accident debris, and skid marks. You may even be able to upload them directly to your insurance company's website or mobile app to fast track your claim, saving lots of time on the phone.

  • Don't admit fault prematurely. Depending on the fault laws of your state, you could end up acting against your own interests after an accident. For instance, did you know that you should never apologize after an accident? Yet 21 percent of drivers do, insinuating fault and leaving themselves vulnerable to unnecessary costs.

    Instead, state the facts as you remember them and allow the police and your insurance company to make the determination. There might be details you're unaware of that could contribute to fault, like if the other driver was distracted or under the influence of alcohol.

    On average, one-third of drivers who've been in a crash have been found "at fault" — and many of them are surprised by that finding. Another one-third disagreed with the determination — yet only 18 percent challenged the decision. If you believe you were found at-fault in error, you have a right to dispute the findings. Sometimes that can lead to further investigation of the accident and possibly to a reversal of the ruling.

Drivers may hope for the best, but should prepare for the worst

Becoming a more cautious and knowledgeable driver can leave you better off in the event of an accident. In fact, many drivers leave themselves vulnerable to worse outcomes simply due to a lack of preparation. Below are some guidelines to follow.

Top ways drivers leave themselves vulnerable (before an accident)

44%

Not reading or understanding insurance policy

32%

Engaging in risky driving behaviors

27%

Opting out of collision coverage

23%

Not wearing a seatbelt

13%

Forgoing car insurance

Sources: 2018 Esurance Accident Survey, Allstate Do You Know What Your Insurance Covers?, National Association of Insurance Commissioners

  • Be familiar with your state's insurance laws. Not that you need to be an expert, but knowing some of the basics can give you a better understanding of which coverages you need and which you don't. You can get all the info on your state's insurance laws here. Additionally, most online quote systems tailor coverages around your ZIP code ... and around you. Based on your answers, your quote can help you zero in on coverages relevant to you — and of course your state.

    In most states, personal liability kicks in based on fault, where the at-fault driver's insurance typically pays for repairs, medical expenses, pain and suffering, and lost wages through liability coverage. If you live in a no-fault state, though, you may be required to carry personal injury protection to cover damages.

    Our survey shows that 75 percent of drivers believe they're well covered. Yet according to Allstate research, 44 percent of those with car insurance don't understand their coverage or haven't even read their policy.

    "What people may not realize is that some really valuable coverages don't cost much per month," says Eric Madia, vice president of auto product with Esurance. "It really pays to research your coverage options — it could make a big difference when you really need it." For instance, your insurance might cover a rental while your car is in the shop. So it pays to know what you're entitled to.

  • Be aware of risky behaviors and avoid them. Keeping your own driving behaviors in check can reduce the severity and aftermath of collisions. Yet you'd be surprised how common it is for drivers to veer off course.

    • 25 percent of drivers admit to tailgating

    • 23 percent admit to not wearing a seatbelt

    • 32 percent still text and drive, despite common knowledge that it's a deadly combination

    Sauber-Schatz says people should also keep in mind that distracted driving isn't just about phone use while driving. "Cell phone use is an important in-vehicle distraction, and drivers using cell phones are 2 to 9 times more likely to be involved in a car crash," she says. "However, distracted driving also includes activities such as eating, talking to other passengers, and adjusting the radio or other car features."

  • Consider whether you need to plan for extreme consequences. In addition to some of the more basic repair costs, consider how to protect yourself from the extreme consequences beyond the minor fender bender. This could include causing major injuries or getting sued if the other driver doesn't recover all costs for damages, medical bills, or emotional distress through the normal claims process.

    Only 13 percent of the drivers we surveyed consider this possibility. The reason you should at least investigate your options and risks is you could be leaving your assets, like your home and savings, vulnerable without sufficient protection.

Accidents are just that — accidents. And while they're impossible to predict, they don't have to be impossible to recover from. Though our study shows that most accidents result in a big hassle, it also reveals that there are some ways we can better prepare for the unexpected.

"We all try our best to avoid accidents — nobody wants to deal with the hassle, costly repairs, and possible injuries," says Brandt. "But it comes down to a lot more than just being a safe driver. Taking the time to properly set yourself up for the best outcomes after an accident is one of the most valuable things you can do — for yourself and others on the road."

Research methodology

Esurance conducted an online survey in September 2018 of 1,147 U.S. vehicle owners who have been in a car accident.

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