Car accidents are almost always chaotic and confusing experiences, so it can be understandably difficult to remember in the heat of the moment what you are legally supposed to do after a wreck. As a general rule of thumb, your first move after ensuring you are out of harm’s way to the best of your abilities should be contacting local police to report your accident, if they have not already arrived at the scene.
Reporting a car accident to the police is not always strictly required under the law, but it can be important to recovering effectively for your damages through your insurance provider or through a personal injury lawsuit. Here are some of the basics about car accident reporting to keep in mind in case you ever find yourself in a serious auto wreck.
When to Report a Car Crash to Law Enforcement
While specific requirements vary somewhat from place to place, it is mandatory in every U.S. state to report any auto accident that cause serious injury or death to the police. Even if your accident results only in minor injuries and/or vehicle damage, though, you should still call 911 and report the wreck to local authorities as soon as possible afterwards.
Any time a police officer responds to a car crash scene, they will write a report about who was involved and what consequences the incident had. While this report is generally not admissible in evidence in a court trial, it can prove absolutely essential to determining liability for a crash, especially during negotiations with insurance providers.
What Will a Police Accident Report Cover?
While at the scene of a recent wreck, a responding police officer will collect a variety of details from numerous sources in preparation for drafting their accident report later on. Depending on the circumstances, this report will likely include most—if not all—of the following information about the accident:
- The date and time the collision occurred
- The location of the accident, often including a description and/or diagram of the accident scene and surrounding area
- The extent and location of damage to the vehicle(s) involved
- Conditions at the scene of the incident, including what the weather was like and what visibility the involved parties had of the road around them
- Contact information, insurance details, and statements from all involved parties
- Contact information and potentially statements from eyewitnesses
- Citations for traffic violations committed by any party involved
In addition to these objective details, a police report may also include the officer’s subjective opinion about what caused the incident and who was to blame for it.
What to Do if the Police Do Not Respond to an Accident Scene
Importantly, police officers do not always respond directly to car accident scenes, especially if there are no injuries reported and the vehicles involved are not blocking traffic. In this situation, you can file your own police report by collecting the aforementioned information yourself, taking photos of vehicle damage and the scene of the crash, speaking to local businesses about possible security camera footage, and either recording verbal statements or seeking signed written statements from other parties involved as well as from eyewitnesses.
Compiling your own accident report can be key to protecting yourself both from future civil liability and from adversarial insurance reps who may want to deny you coverage for accident-related losses. A qualified car accident lawyer could potentially provide substantial help with drafting such a report and submitting it to the relevant parties.