If you’re in even a minor accident, it can turn into a challenging situation to deal with. That’s why in situations that seem like no big deal, such as a fender bender, you should always be sure to call the police.
If you get in an accident and the police don’t come for some reason, or you don’t get a report, you need to go file a counter-report stating you were in a car accident.
The following are some of the key things you should know about police reports, especially as they relate to car accidents.
What is a Police Report?
A police report is something an investigating officer creates after responding to an accident. The police report summarizes the information surrounding the accident. It includes a combination of accident facts as well as opinions of the officer who’s investigating.
As was touched on, it’s important to get a police report even in small accidents. This documents what happened, and that can be especially important if the medical or physical damage of the accident isn’t immediately apparent. You also have no way of knowing what the other driver involved in the accident will do after you leave the accident scene. A police report lends itself to accuracy.
Also, there’s a distinction between filing a police report and making an insurance claim.
A police report is not an automatic insurance claim—it’s simply a record of an accident.
When you file a police report, it provides your insurance company with a basis for handling your claim and it gives them a crash report so you don’t have to handle everything by yourself.
Don’t leave the scene of an accident before getting a full police report.
An accurate police report will help protect you in the event of legal issues arising from the accident.
How Do You Get a Police Report?
You may need a police report following an accident.
There are two ways to get it.
One is to get a paid copy of the report from your local law enforcement office. Before you leave the scene of an accident, the investigating officer should give you a receipt. That should have the ID number for the police report.
Then, contact your local law enforcement agency that responded to your accident. Ask to speak to the traffic division, and then give them the ID number. You’ll probably have to pay an administrative fee to get a copy of the report.
If you don’t have or don’t know your police report ID number, you can provide information about the accident such as the location, time, and date and they should be able to find it for you.
You can also get a free copy of your police report by asking the claims representative for your insurance company if they requested it. If they did, you can then ask for a copy.
After an accident, it usually takes at least a few weeks for the report to be completed, so it won’t be available for you to get a copy right away.
What’s Included in a Police Report?
The investigating officer at the scene of an accident will do certain things. These things include inspecting the vehicles, taking notes and photos, talking to people, and measuring distances. All of these are things that are needed to complete a police report.
Some or all of the information that may end up being included are:
- The date, time, and location where the accident happened
- Identifying information for everyone involved, including names and phone numbers, addresses, and insurance information
- Witness identifying information
- Damage location for the vehicles that are part of the accident
- Lighting, roadway, and weather conditions at the scene of the accident
- A diagram of the accident
- Witness statements
- Citations or law violation details
- Opinions about the cause of the accident and possibly a determination of fault
There’s a distinction to be made between facts and opinions in a police report.
The facts are things like the location and time of the accident. The fault determination, if included, is an opinion of the responding officer.
The insurance company will conduct its own investigation to determine who is at fault.
The insurance company’s fault determination can be different from the opinions of the officer who completes the police report.
What this means is that the police report could be in your favor, but the insurance company for the other driver still denies your claim.
After a car accident, once you file a claim with your insurance company, they’ll conduct their own investigation.
Often the first thing the insurance company will ask for is the police report.
While police reports are widely used to settle insurance claims, their admissibility in court isn’t as black and white.
In small claims courts, a litigant may be able to submit a police report as evidence in a car accident case. However, if your case goes to trial in a state court known as a circuit or superior court, the police report may be considered hearsay. In some jurisdictions, a police report might be considered business or public records for the sake of admissibility.
What if Police Don’t Respond to Your Accident?
There are situations where a police officer might not be available to respond to your accident.
For example, in some states, police don’t have to go to an accident scene if the value of the damage is too low. If you have concerns, state them when you call.
If there are no injuries police may decide not to come, and if there’s a public emergency happening, the police may not be able to come.
You should always call the police and let them decide.
If you are at the scene of an accident and the police aren’t coming, you should document the damages and the details of the accident yourself. Take pictures, get contact information, and write down notes or take a video recording of everything at the scene.