If you're involved in a car accident, you should call the local police or sheriff's office. Most states require drivers to call the police when an accident causes injuries or vehicle damage over a certain dollar amount. In any case, a trained law enforcement officer can be an invaluable source of help and information in such a confusing situation. An officer can:
If you have any doubt about whether you should call the police after a car crash, it's better to err on the side of caution and file a police report. Most states require drivers to call the police in certain situations, including:
In cases involving injuries, substantial damage to the vehicles, or 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 (see below). Get the report number if it's available. You might have to pay a small fee to get the report, but it's worth it. Everyone involved in a car insurance claim and a car accident lawsuit relies heavily on the police report.
Police reports typically document any physical evidence (like tire marks) at the scene of an accident and any witness statements. The report will list what traffic citations, if any, an officer issued and maybe even the officer's opinion about who caused the accident. In other words, police reports are powerful evidence that can help you speed up the insurance claims process or win your lawsuit in court.
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 your situation changes in the future. For example, the other driver might seem friendly and cooperative at the scene and then deny all responsibility later. Or your accident injuries might not show up right away. Call the police department's non-emergency line and ask a dispatcher for advice.
If the police decline to come to the scene of your minor accident, you can go to the nearest police station and file a report yourself after you exchange information with the other driver. If there are any witnesses, get their names and contact information as well. Make a note of the exact location of the accident and how it happened. If you can, take pictures of the vehicles and the scene from multiple vantage points. Learn more about what to do after a car accident.
If you 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—all of the following information:
If the driver's name is different from the name of the insured, establish what the relationship is and take down the name and address for each person.
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—like drivers who don't have car insurance—give false information. If the other driver won't let you verify 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 can do that when you're away from the scene of the accident and have had a chance to calm down and talk to your own insurer.
If you call the police after a minor car accident, it might take an hour or more for an officer to arrive. It's important to wait for them. While you are waiting, you should:
Once a police officer arrives, only talk to the officer about the specifics of your accident. Provide the information that the officer requests, but say no more. Remember, any statement you make could end up in the police report and be used against you in your insurance claim or in court.
After you notify the police, be sure to notify your insurance company that you were involved in a car accident. The law might not require it, but your insurance policy almost certainly does.
Dealing with the police and insurance companies can be stressful and intimidating. You might want to hire a lawyer to do it for you. Learn more about how an attorney can help with your car accident claim. When you're ready, Nolo's directory can help you find the right auto accident lawyer.