When you're involved in a minor car collision, 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 damage is minor, reporting an accident to the police can save you money and hassle later on. Every state has some form of law that requires individuals involved in car accidents to a report those accidents to the police, depending on the circumstances of the accident.
Regardless of whether or not 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 police.
Call the Police Immediately
If there are injuries, the first step is to call 9-1-1. If the police show 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 what law.
The police will likely collect the following:
- Date and time the accident occurred — noting if it was dark or if there were other visibility issues
- Personal information from all the parties involved, including name, address, telephone number and insurance details
- Driver statements
- Information on the vehicles involved in the accident and damage
- Witness contact information and their statements
- Injuries noted at the scene
- Description of the road or parking lot where the accident occurred
- A 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 accidently admit fault. Before the police leave the scene, obtain the name and badge numbers of the responding officers, and 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 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 DMV to have your statement and evidence recorded as soon after the accident as possible.
Review Your Police Report
Unless the police officer makes 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 the report be revised.
Have Questions About Reporting an Accident to the Police? Ask a 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 to ensure that your rights are protected throughout the settlement process.