Almost every driver will be involved in a collision sometime in their driving career. 1 in 3 drivers will be involved in one classified as “serious,” one that involves one or more vehicles being towed from the scene and/or one or more persons being transported to the hospital.
After an automobile accident, there are several things to attend to right away. First and foremost, you need to determine if you, your passengers, or the occupants of other vehicles involved have sustained any injuries. Once it has been determined that everyone is ok (or help has been called), it’s time to start exchanging information with all the drivers and witnesses involved. For your protection, this information needs to be recorded in an official accident report.
If you get into a collision, the traffic accident report is the form that details the information about the incident. It’s usually filled out by a police officer after one of the parties involved calls for help or if an officer witnesses the accident. This report should contain as many details as possible about the incident and is an important legal tool for identifying who was at fault, valuable information in processing an insurance claim.
What You’ll Find on an Accident Report
One of the most critical tasks to accomplish after an accident is to complete and file an accident report. For a minor collision, police do not necessarily need to be called. If there are no injuries and all vehicles are drivable, there is really no reason for police involvement. If the police are not called, be sure you collect the same information gathered for an “official” accident report.
If you document the incident, help yourself by snapping pictures of the scene and the other driver’s license plate and insurance card. It may also help get a voice recording of any nearby witnesses and their contact information to help strengthen your story.
An accident report will document the details surrounding the collision, things like:
- Names and contact information of all parties involved
- Plate numbers and VINs of vehicles involved
- Specific location of the accident
- A written description of the events, built from the officer’s observation and eyewitness accounts
When a police officer fills out an accident report, it may contain a statement about who is at fault. This statement is based on their professional opinion and is not necessarily binding. Some reports contain no at-fault determination at all.
It could be that the officer at the scene may issue citations to one or more of the drivers involved in the collision. While the drivers receiving citations will bear the responsibility of appearing in traffic court, a ticket’s presence also doesn’t necessarily establish fault. However, if the issued citations imply negligence, this may certainly play a part in the insurance company’s determination of fault.
Obtaining an Accident Report
When submitting a claim on your insurance, there’s a good chance that the professional working on your case is going to require a copy of the accident report. If a police report was filed, you’ll have to go through the necessary steps to obtain one.
To obtain a copy of an accident report, contact the law enforcement agency that recorded it and submit a request. While the request for a report can be made in person, it may also be handled by phone, mail, or online, depending on the agency. Usually, a copy of the report won’t be available until at least 24 hours after the accident, and it’s best to wait 48 hours before asking for it. Be prepared to pay at least a nominal fee; some police departments charge for reports to cover their administrative costs.
Submit the Report to the DMV
Depending on the state where you live, you may have to submit a copy of the accident report to your DMV or similar governing agency. Make sure you determine the policy of your state as the submission may be time-critical. For example, in Oregon, drivers have just three days from the accident date to submit the report. Make sure to fill out the paperwork correctly and get it to the DMV promptly after the incident. Going through an accident is bad enough; make sure that you aren’t breaking the law as well.
Understanding how a car accident report works is important, and it’s good to know where you can get a copy for yourself as well. With the report, you’ll be able to go over the details of the accident, and you’ll be able to file a claim with your insurance with proof of what happened. That’s highly valuable and well worth going through a bit of trouble for. Otherwise, you may be stuck with paying for the claim yourself.
You Don’t Have to File a Claim
Filing a police accident report doesn’t automatically mean that you have to submit a claim to your insurance company. The report is just for support to your story if you do end up needing a claim. After you file the report, it’s completely up to you. You may want to avoid filing a claim because you have a high deductible and the damage isn’t that extensive, or you want to avoid raising your premiums.
If you have more questions about what to do after a crash, check out our After Accident Guide.