One of the first steps to take after any motor vehicle accident is to call the police. Officers will investigate the scene and may determine who was at fault.

However, what if the police are unavailable? How you handle the situation may be crucial for protecting your rights.

What to do at the scene

The first step, of course, is summoning medical help for anyone injured. Taking care of the injured should be the number-one priority.

Always call the police. However, officers may not respond to your accident if they are busy with a major emergency. They also may not respond if your accident is minor or there are no reported injuries.

When police do not respond, you become your own accident investigator. Ask the police for advice when you report the accident. Get the name of the person who gives you advice.

Record the damage and accident scene through notes, photographs and recordings. Collect contact information from witnesses. Get license, car registration and insurance information from other drivers in the accident.

File your report, with all information you collected, with the police as soon as possible. Also file an insurance claim. The sooner you start this process, the sooner you can receive compensation.

What to do before an accident

You can aid your case by preparing ahead of time for an accident. The steps are simple yet can save time, money and even lives.

You should always keep important documents in your vehicle. These include registration, proof of insurance and medical information about your family. Always carry emergency equipment in your car as well, such as flares, orange cones, emergency signage and a first-aid kit.

What to do to protect your rights

Without a police report, the case becomes your word against that of another motorist. When you collect evidence at the scene, you strengthen your case.

The task can seem daunting because you are dealing with a complex legal system. However, with planning and documentation, you can better control your fate.