If you get into an auto accident and file a claim with your insurance company, one of the first things they will likely ask you is whether you made a police accident report. If you can get one, you are probably better off.
If the police do not come to the accident scene, you should be able to visit your local police station or DMV and fill one out. The key is to make sure that the information on the report is accurate before an inaccuracy becomes a problem and potentially costs you money.
What information is on a police auto accident report?
- Police auto accident reports record essential information about an accident.
- If the police don't come to the scene, you can fill out a report at the local police station or DMV.
- Police reports often include the date and location, the drivers and vehicles involved, information witness statements, and more.
- The police might not respond to an accident on private property, like a parking lot fender bender, so you may need to record the relevant information yourself.
Why You Need a Police Report After an Accident
Police reports help document what happened during an accident, and one of their main benefits is that they are objective. That helps the insurance company or any other legal entities understand exactly what happened, in an unbiased way.
If information is needed as evidence, it holds more weight than what might be considered "hearsay" between your story and the other driver's story.
The police report is important not just in regard to making an insurance claim, but also as evidence in a potential civil or criminal court action.
What's in the Police Accident Report?
Basic information about the accident should always be part of any report. Be sure the following information is included and complete.
The Date and Location of the Crash
Details are essential. The date should include the day, month, and year, of course, but also the specific time. It also doesn't hurt to make note of the day of the week.
In terms of the location, be very specific. Check to make sure that everything that applies is included:
- Town or city
- Road, street, route and/or intersection
- Road marker
- Railroad crossing ID
- Any distinguishing landmarks
The report should also describe the weather conditions at the time of the accident.
Drivers and Vehicles
Be sure that your report has all of the pertinent information for each driver, including name, address, phone number, driver's license number, and date of birth. It may be easiest to take a look at the other person's driver's license.
You might want to note whether another driver's license indicates a corrective eyewear requirement, especially if it appears that the other driver was not wearing glasses at the time of the accident.
It is also important that the report includes full information for each vehicle involved, such as the year, make and model, and license plate number.
Passengers and Other Witnesses
Here is where you need to check the information in a police report written by a responding officer to make sure it is complete.
In many cases, officers will not take down basic information on passengers unless they are injured or killed, but passengers are often the best witnesses to an accident. If you are filling out a report at the station or the DMV, be sure to include all of the information you have on passengers.
Be sure the police report has taken the statements of any third-party witnesses. Third-party witnesses are often seen as particularly credible, since they have no apparent connection to the parties and therefore have no bias.
Gently insist that the responding officer take down witness information and statements. If they don't, get the information yourself—it may come in handy later on.
The vast majority of police accident reports are done on a printed form with spaces for specific information and, in many cases, check-the-box sections to cover every possible tiny detail of what happened.
It will also provide a space for the officer to write in any additional details that they deem important.
If you are the one filling out the form at the police station or DMV, be sure to describe the accident in as much detail as the form allows—and then some.
Party and Witness Statements
This is the most important section for you, because this is where you get to tell your side of the story.
If the report is being taken by a responding officer, be sure to read over what they write down for you, and confirm its accuracy on the spot. You may want to review what the other parties and witnesses put down in their statements if you get the opportunity.
If you review a police accident report and discover an error, let them know immediately. If the error concerns a factual mistake, such as a misspelled name or incorrect license number—something that is easily confirmable—you will likely find it simple to correct.
Don't expect to be able to change something that amounts to a conclusion reached by the report taker, though, even if you believe that the conclusion is factually incorrect.
Remember, the need for a police accident report to be complete and accurate is hard to overstate.
What About Accidents on Private Property?
The police are not able to respond to every fender bender in a parking lot or driveway.
If your vehicle is damaged in the grocery store parking lot, the police will likely not come to file a police report if there are no major injuries. That means you will need to take down the information yourself.
The information required for filing a car insurance claim that occurred on private property is very similar to the information usually included on a police report. While you might not have a police report form, be sure to include all of the same information in your personal documentation.
How to Get a Copy of the Police Report
When you are involved in an accident, and police come to the scene, the officer who writes the police report will often provide you with a report identification number.
By calling the police department that issued the police report, you will be able to receive a copy, but it might not be available immediately.
Frequently Asked Questions
Does the accident report automatically go to insurance?
Police reports are not automatically sent to your insurance company. When you call or contact your insurer to make a claim, they may ask you to send it to them.
How long do you have to report an accident to the police?
The amount of time you have to report an accident to the police varies by state. In New York, for example, you must report the accident within 10 days. In Missouri, you have up to 30 days. Be sure to check your local state laws to find out the requirements where you live.
When should I report an accident to the police?
Even if your state law gives you a cushion of 10 days, 30 days, or something else, you should always report an accident to the police as soon as possible. In some cases, if you take longer than a certain amount of time, you may need to provide documentation proving why you couldn't submit it earlier.