Filing a Police Report After a Car Accident

Two damaged cars after accident
••• Eric Van Den Brulle/ Stone/ Getty Images

Filing a police report after a car accident is an important step in making sure all the details of the accident are documented and all parties involved are protected.

It's important to contact the police any time you're involved in a car accident and it's a requirement in some states. Even when it is not, you are better contacting the police and letting them decide if they will come to the accident scene.

Once you've contacted the authorities, you will have done your part in protecting your own interests and following the law, which will work to your benefit if there is a lawsuit filed following the accident.​

File a Police Report Regardless of How Small the Car Accident Seems

Even if there is only minor damage it is still important to make sure an accident report is filed to document exactly what happened. Sometimes more physical and medical damage surfaces later that is not always apparent at the time of the accident. You also don't know what the other person in the car accident will decide to do or say after you have left the scene, and the police can help make sure the details are accurate.

Filing a Police Report and Making a Claim 

Just because you file a police report does not mean you automatically are making an insurance claim. The police report serves only as a record of the incident. Sometimes after a car accident, the parties to the accident choose to handle the financial issues between themselves rather than contact their insurance companies. Otherwise, you'll need to contact your insurance company for details on how to proceed.

Filing the accident report will not only provide your insurance company with a basis on how to properly handle your claim but it will also give them an accurate crash report.

An accurate report will ensure protection for you if there are any legal problems that occur from the car accident. The police may help submit the report to the DMV for you if required. Do not leave the scene until the police take a full report.

Police Reports and Personal Injuries

No one is at their best after a car accident. You will likely be shaken up and not in a position to judge how you are doing. Police have experience in spotting potential issues and can be of help. They will also deal with the third party for you, which will provide some objectivity and relieve a lot of stress.

The police will question all involved parties and fill in the accident report details. Sometimes you can have personal injuries that don't show up until a day or two after the accident. If you didn't file a police report and there is no record of the incident, it may make things harder for you in the long run, such as not getting any insurance coverage for your medical expenses.

If the Police Do Not Come to the Accident

There may be a situation in which a police officer is not available because of your location or other reasons. Here are some reasons the police may not come to the scene of the accident:

  • In some states, the police are not required to go to the scene of an accident if the property damage value is too low. If you are concerned about injuries or other issues you should make the police aware when you call it in so they can make a decision if they will come anyway based on your description of what is happening.
  • The police may make the decision not to come if there are no injuries
  • If there is a public emergency or disaster underway, they may not be able to make it to the scene of the accident. 

    You should always make the call to the police on the scene and let them decide. If you are in a situation where the police do not come to the scene of the accident, then make sure you document the accident and damages thoroughly yourself. 

    Information You Should Get at the Accident Scene

    If the police tell you they cannot make it to the accident, ask them what you should do, and make sure you take all the information necessary using a car accident form or information checklist. Also take down the name of the person you spoke to when reporting the accident, in case you need it later in court or for a settlement.

    • Find witnesses if possible.
    • Write down, take pictures or make an audio or video recording (with your phone) of the damages, location and the third party or witness versions of what happened at the scene if possible.
    • File your report with the police as soon as you can and give the police officer the information you collected.

    You will need to file your own report and insurance claim if the police are not there to help. The information and details collected from the car accident can be one of the most important tools in determining fault and who is financially responsible for the car accident.

    Filing a detailed and accurate report keeps the claims process smooth and quick, meaning you'll get paid faster on your claim. Always be honest and detailed with the police officer; it will help you in the long run.

    What the Police Will Do at the Scene of a Car Accident

    The police are there to help, and they will be able to provide support to the parties involved in the crash, interview witnesses, and gather all necessary information about the accident. They will do some or all of the following:

    • Take down basic information.
    • Make sure the area is secure and safe for traffic and all people involved
    • Call any emergency services that may also need to get involved (like ambulances and fire trucks) to help. 
    • Give tickets if this is required due to violations or negligence.
    • Speak to witnesses or any third parties (other people) involved.
    • Evaluate the situation which can avoid scams or other questionable circumstances.
    • Prepare a report you can later use to file your insurance claim, or use in court if needed.

      Know How to Get in Contact With the Police Officer Who Filed Your Accident Report

      After the accident report is filed make sure you get a card and/or direct contact information from the police officer who filed the accident report.

      Often after an accident, you may only remember additional details later after you've rested and calmed down, and these details can be very important, especially if the car accident claim snowballs into a lawsuit.

      If you find you have remembered some key details after the accident report is filed, contact the police officer and see if you can add these details to the accident report.