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Tips for Reporting an Accident to Police

When you're involved in a minor motor vehicle collision like a fender bender, a quick exchange of insurance information may seem like all that's needed. You have car insurance to take care of vehicle accidents. Do you really need to call the police or make an accident report?

It may surprise you that the answer to this question is often "yes." Even if the property damage is minor, reporting an accident to the police can save you money and hassle later. Every state has some form of law that requires individuals involved in car accidents to report those accidents to the police, depending on the circumstances of the accident.

Regardless of whether you submit a police report, you should report the accident to both your insurance company and the insurance company that covers the other people involved in the accident. Here are some tips for reporting an accident to the police.

Call the Local Police Department Immediately

If there are injuries, the first step after an auto accident is to call 9-1-1. If law enforcement shows up, they'll conduct a brief investigation and try to figure out who caused the accident. If there was a statutory violation (e.g., disregard for a specific traffic law like passing a red light or failing to stop at a stop sign), the police officer will make a note as to which driver violated which law.

The police will likely collect the following:

  • Date and time of the accident, including noting if it was dark or if there were other visibility issues when the car crash occurred
  • Personal information from all the parties involved, including name, address, telephone number, and auto insurance details
  • Driver statements
  • Information on the vehicles involved in the accident and damage
  • Witness contact information and statements
  • Injuries noted at the scene
  • Description of the road or parking lot where the accident occurred
  • Diagram of the accident scene

Although you're not necessarily required to talk to the police, it may be in your best interests to have your side of the story in the report. Just stick to the facts when speaking with the officer, and do not accidentally admit fault.

Before the police leave the scene, obtain the names and badge numbers of the responding officers. Ask for a police or incident report number if it's available. This way, you can follow up with the officer if you remember additional information relating to the accident.

Filing a Police Report After an Accident

If there are any injuries and the police don't respond to the accident, file your own police report as soon as possible. It is not unusual for the at-fault party to accept responsibility right after the accident, only to change their story later.

This list of additional measures will help if you file a police report:

  • Collect the information listed above
  • Take pictures of the accident scene and the cars involved in the incident
  • Use your phone to record any witness statements
  • If the other party wants to admit fault, ask for a signed statement or make a recording on your phone
  • Look for video surveillance cameras in parking lots or nearby businesses. Inquire about video footage immediately since it's unlikely to be stored for very long

In busy metropolitan areas, such as Los Angeles, the police may not take a car accident report unless there are injuries. If this happens, try filing an accident report with the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to have your statement and evidence recorded as soon after the accident as possible.

Review Your Police Report

Unless the police officer makes a note of any applicable statutory violations, the officer probably won't give an opinion on fault during their investigation. You will need to get a copy of your car accident report. It's normally available within 10 days.

Because it's considered hearsay (unless exceptions are met), the police report is not admissible in court. However, it's frequently used by insurance companies in deciding liability. You should carefully review the report, and if you discover mistakes, you can request a revision of the report.

The following are frequently asked questions about reporting an accident, including:

What should I do immediately after a minor car accident?

Following a minor car accident, your immediate reaction should involve a few key steps.

First, remain calm at the scene of the accident to better handle the situation. Assess whether you or any passengers are injured. Then, ensure everyone's safety by moving the vehicles out of traffic, if possible.

Call local law enforcement officers to the location of the accident, especially if there are injuries, to assist at the scene and prepare an accident report. Exchange contact and insurance information with the other driver. Be careful to avoid discussing the accident's details to prevent any unintended admission of fault.

Document the scene of an accident by taking photos of the vehicle damage, the accident location, and any other details that seem relevant, like traffic signs, road conditions, or debris. Note the date and time of the accident and collect the contact details of any witnesses. This information can be helpful when filing your insurance claim or if legal issues arise.

What should I do if I'm involved in a hit-and-run accident?

Involvement in a hit-and-run accident can be quite distressing. After ensuring your safety, try to recall and record as much information as possible about the offending vehicle — its color, make, model, and any part of the license plate number you can remember. This information can aid the police in locating the other motorist.

Always report a hit-and-run to the police and your insurance provider. In some cases, your insurance policy might cover hit-and-run damages, depending on your coverage type.

Should I seek medical attention after a minor car accident?

Yes. Seek medical attention after any car accident, no matter how minor.

Even if you feel fine, some injuries, like whiplash or concussions, don't present immediate symptoms. Still, they can have serious, long-term effects.

A medical examination not only ensures your health but also provides a medical record that can serve as evidence if you file a personal injury claim later.

What can a personal injury lawyer do for me after a car accident?

Hiring a personal injury lawyer after a car accident can be incredibly beneficial. They have the experience to handle the legal complexities surrounding car accidents. They can advocate for your rights during insurance claims. They ensure that you receive fair compensation for damages, injuries, and any emotional distress caused by the accident.

If the other party changes their account or their insurance company disputes the claim, a lawyer can fight on your behalf.

Can I lose my driving privileges after a traffic accident?

Losing driving privileges after a traffic accident depends on various factors. These include the seriousness of the accident, your driving history, and whether you were at fault. If you're convicted of severe traffic offenses, like DUIs or hit-and-runs, you're more likely to face suspension or revocation of your driving privileges. Multiple minor offenses can also lead to such consequences.

Always consult with a lawyer to understand the potential ramifications of a traffic accident.

What should I do if an insurance adjuster contacts me after the accident?

If an insurance adjuster contacts you after the accident, be succinct and polite. But if you can, you should have an attorney present to speak on your behalf. Remember that the adjuster works for the insurance company, not for you. Their job is to minimize the company's payout.

Be honest, but avoid making offhand comments that could be construed as an admission of fault. Do not agree to any recorded statements. Do not accept any settlement offers without first consulting with a personal injury lawyer. A lawyer will help you understand the value of your claim and negotiate with the insurance company to ensure your rights are protected.

How can I ensure accessibility to evidence like video footage after the accident?

If your accident occurred near businesses or intersections with surveillance cameras, this footage could be evidence for your insurance claim or lawsuit. As soon as you're able, identify potential sources of video footage and formally request access to them. Surveillance footage isn't typically stored for extended periods, so act quickly. Your attorney can assist in acquiring this footage if needed.

What if the police report contains errors?

A police report is an important document in the aftermath of a car accident. Review it thoroughly. If you spot errors or missing information, contact the law enforcement agency that issued the report. Ask about their procedure for amending the report. It can vary based on the local jurisdiction and the nature of the errors. In some cases, you might be asked to provide a written statement or supporting evidence for your claim of inaccuracies. If you have difficulty amending the report, a lawyer can help guide you through this process.

Have Questions About Reporting an Accident to the Police? Get Legal Advice From a Car Accident Lawyer

Even a minor traffic collision can turn into an insurance nightmare. Perhaps the other party changed their story after the accident, or their insurance company is disputing the claims.

Contact an experienced car accident attorney near you to have someone on your side. A lawyer can ensure that your rights are protected throughout the personal injury settlement process.

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