What Is a Fender Bender Accident?

What Is a Fender Bender Accident?

It’s one of life’s great annoyances. You’re stopped at a red light, patiently awaiting a green, when—WHUMP!—another car smacks into you from behind, jolting you forward to the accompanying sound of your bumper cracking and dollar bills draining away onto the asphalt.

But what is a fender bender, exactly? Is it necessary to contact the police? What information do you need to gather at the scene? Whether you just want to be prepared or you’re frantically searching for answers in the aftermath, here’s what you need to know if you’re involved in this type of minor collision.

What is a fender bender?

Fender benders are low speed collisions at stop signs, lights or in parking lots where the damage is relatively minor/cosmetic. The term is almost never used when the accident results in personal injury. However, there is no specific legal definition that differentiates it from other accidents, according to David Reischer, CEO of LegalAdvice.com.

“The expression ‘fender bender’ has no significance as a matter of law,” Reisher said.

“It’s merely shorthand for a type of minor accident with only minor/minimal damages.”

The term, as you’d expect, is derived from the most common victim of minor traffic incidents: fenders/bumpers. They tend to get cracked or bent to prevent damage to the rest of the chassis and, in most cases, prevent injury to the car’s passengers. The term fender itself is a shortening of the word defender tracing back to the 13th century, when fenders were added to ships to protect the hull when docking.

What causes fender benders?

There are a number of causes of fender benders, but they largely boil down to a few common inciting factors—not obeying traffic laws, sudden, unpredictable behavior and driver distractions. The first and second are linked, because any time a driver disobeys traffic laws their behavior becomes unpredictable to other motorists. Switching lanes without warning, blowing through a stop sign or traffic light or turning against the right of way are all examples of unpredictable behavior that violates traffic laws and can lead to accidents.

There are also unpredictable actions that aren’t technically illegal but can still lead to fender benders or other collisions. These include things like braking suddenly or switching lanes with very little warning. And then there are all the distractions the modern world puts at our fingertips. Things like glancing at your cellphone or changing the radio station. They seem innocuous but they can be driving distractions.

What to do if you’re in a fender bender?

Getting in an accident, even a minor fender bender, can be very stressful. Fortunately, there are a few steps you can follow to get back on the road safely.

Get somewhere safe

The first and most important thing to do immediately after a fender bender is to get yourself and your vehicle to a safe place. If possible, find a parking lot or similar space where you and the other party can pull aside and exchange information without risk. Also, if there are any injuries, immediately call for help.

Contact the police

Particularly if there’s significant damage to any of the vehicles involved, you should immediately contact law enforcement. A police report and/or officer’s statement will be the most important evidence should the incident be disputed. That’s assuming you’re able to obtain one.

“Oftentimes the police will not even respond to a car accident unless there are serious injuries or there is reason for public safety concerns," Reisher said. “[In] some jurisdictions, the police can take hours to arrive and the police will merely just suggest exchanging info and take statements.”

In any event, you should always at least attempt to contact the police, because even minor damage can end up costing thousands of dollars to repair. However, regardless of whether they arrive or not, the next step is absolutely critical in every minor accident.

Document the incident

The most important thing you can do after a fender bender, and the thing over which you have the most direct control, is to collect as much evidence as possible.

Photograph the scene and both vehicles, talk to witnesses (and record their statements on your phone if they consent) and get their contact information. Take the insurance and contact information for anyone else directly involved in the collision as well. The more data and evidence you have, the better your case if it becomes necessary to prove liability, either to your insurance company or to the court.

“Proving the other driver’s negligence can be a challenge when an accident has multiple causative factors,” Reisher said. “It is incumbent on the parties involved in an accident to take photographs and get witness statements to help determine fault and liability because oftentimes there is no police report to clarify these matters.”

Contact your insurer

The sooner you contact your insurance company, the better. Not only will they be able to immediately start your claim, but the incident will be fresh in your mind. If possible, getting the other party to speak to your agent may also be for the best, if they’re willing to admit their liability in the immediate aftermath.

A person’s story about what actually happened may change over time. That’s why providing immediate, accurate information is vital. The agent will also be able to provide advice on what details they need to best make your claim, and often the most important information is only available at the scene of the incident.

How to try and avoid a fender bender

The best way to deal with a fender bender is to never get involved with one in the first place. While you can’t control other drivers’ behavior, there are lots of things you can do yourself to lower your risk while driving. This will also reduce the chance that you’ll be the party at fault if you do have a minor accident.

Limit distractions

Put away your cell phone, and ignore second screens in the vehicle. Don’t toy with the radio until you’re safely stopped. Keeping your eyes and attention on the road and maintaining situational awareness is the number one key to safe driving.

Practice defensive driving

Obey traffic laws, drive slowly and alertly and yield to aggressive drivers. Be predictable and always give plenty of advance warning whenever you’re going to change langes, stop or merge.

Don’t tailgate

Practice the three second rule, which states that your vehicle should pass a stationary object three seconds after the car ahead. If a more aggressive driver merges into your buffer zone, simply slow down until you’ve built it back up.

Avoid relying solely on technology

While it’s true that safety advancements like backup cameras and blind spot detection have averted accidents, these tools are imperfect. Always check your surroundings (including the front of the vehicle) when reversing, and quickly turn your head to make sure your blind spot is clear before changing lanes.

Never drive under the influence

Never drive under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Even the smallest intoxication can distract you enough to lead to dangerous consequences. This includes avoiding driving when you’re drowsy, another leading cause of road accidents.


Fender benders can be a pain, but like most things in life, being prepared makes this type of minor traffic accident easier to handle.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why do they call it fender bender?

The term comes from how fenders or bumpers tend to get deformed or damaged during minor traffic accidents.

What happens if you don't call the police after an accident?

Police provide some of the most important evidence should an accident be contested in court or by the insurance agencies, so not contacting them is a mistake, even for minor incidents. Lacking police documentation means the other party could provide a very different version of the accident, including falsifying damage or injuries.

What should you not say to your insurance company after an accident?

Avoid giving an insurance company anything outside of basic, factual information about an accident. You should not speculate about injuries, apologize or consent to being recorded in the immediate aftermath of an accident.

About Bumper

At Bumper, we are on a mission to bring vehicle history reports and ownership up to speed with modern times. A vehicle is one of the most expensive purchases you'll likely make, and you deserve to have access to the same tools and information the pros use to make the right decisions.

Disclaimer: The above is solely intended for informational purposes and in no way constitutes legal advice or specific recommendations.