If you're involved in a car accident, one of the first things you should do is call the local police or sheriff's office. In most states, when a car accident results in injuries, and/or causes vehicle damage over a certain dollar amount, law enforcement must be notified. In any case, a trained law enforcement officer (from the local police or sheriff's department) can be an invaluable source of help and information in such a confusing situation. The officer can:
In cases involving injuries, substantial damage to the vehicles, or significant motor vehicle law violations, the officer will prepare a police report in connection with the crash. Make sure to get the name and badge number of the officer and the police agency that the officer represents so you can get a copy of the accident report after it's written. Also get the report number if it's available. There will probably be a small charge for the report, but it's worth it. This is a critical document which is relied upon fairly heavily by everyone involved in the car insurance claim or car accident lawsuit process.
Should you still call the police even if your accident is just a minor one? The answer is usually yes. Even after a minor accident, a police officer can help you sort things out, and document what happened in case that becomes important in the future. However, in many metropolitan areas, the police probably won't come to the scene of your minor fender-bender. They will simply tell you to exchange information with the other driver. The police will not prepare a report in this situation.
If you do call the police, and they tell you to just exchange information with the other driver, what information should you exchange? At a minimum, make sure you get from the other driver(s) -- and that the other driver(s) get from you -- the following information:
Ask to see documents from which you can copy this information, such as a driver's license and an insurance verification card. Why? Sometimes, people -- such as drivers who don't have car insurance -- will give false information if you don't verify what they are telling you. If they won't verify their information, call the police and insist that the driver stay until the police arrive.
If you are suspicious about the information you are getting, call the other driver's insurance company from the scene of the accident to verify for yourself that the other driver has given you accurate information. But only verify coverage. Don't give accident details to the other driver's insurance company. Not yet. You'll do that later, after you're away from the scene of your accident and have calmed down.
If you call the police, and they do send an officer to the scene, but it's a minor car accident, the agency may give it a low priority. It could take up to one hour for an officer to arrive. It's important to wait for them, of course, but what should you do while you are waiting?
Once the police officer arrives, speak only with him or her about the specifics of your accident. Provide the information that the officer requests, but be careful what you say even to the officer. Remember, any statement you make could end up in the police report.