Filing a Police Report After a Car Accident

What to Consider When Filing a Police Report After a Car Accident

Auto accident involving two cars on a city street
••• boonchai wedmakawand / Getty Images

Filing a police report after a car accident is an important step. Documenting the details ensures that all parties are protected.

It's good to contact the police any time you're in a car accident. In some states, it is even required. Either way, you are better off letting the police decide whether they should come to the scene of the crash.

Once you've called the police, you will have done your part to protect yourself and follow the law. This will be helpful if someone files a lawsuit later.​

Should You File a Report for Small Accidents?

Even if there is only minor damage, it is still smart to file an accident report to record the details. The damage isn't always clear at the time of the crash, and you might notice added injury or loss at a later time.

You don't know what the other person in the car accident will decide to do or say after you have left the scene. Filing a report means the police can help make sure the details are correct.

How to File a Police Report and Make a Claim 

Just because you file a police report does not mean that you are making an insurance claim. The police report serves only as a record of the incident. 

Sometimes the parties involved choose to handle the financial issues between themselves. But this is not a good idea, because it puts you at risk.

Filing the police report will provide your insurance company with an accurate account of the crash. This will allow them to represent you in anything that comes up about the accident, so you do not have to handle it by yourself.

Do not leave the scene until the police take a full report. A report will protect you if there are any legal problems that arise as a result of the crash. The police may help you submit the report to the Department of Motor Vehicles if needed.

If you are the victim of a hit-and-run accident, many insurance policies require that you file a police report within 24 hours in order to have a claim paid.

Police Reports and Personal Injuries

No one is at their best after a car accident. You will likely be shaken up and not able to clearly judge how you are doing. Police can spot potential issues and help. They will also deal with the other 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 details of the report.

Sometimes injuries 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 crash, it may make it harder for you in the long run. For instance, it could be harder to get coverage for your medical expenses.

If the Police Do Not Come to the Scene

There may be times that a police officer can't come to the scene of the accident. Here are a few reasons why that might happen:

  • 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, make the police aware when you call it in. Having more details can help them decide whether they will come.
  • The police may decide not to come if there are no injuries.
  • If there is a public emergency or disaster underway, they may be too busy to make it to the scene of your crash.

You should always make a call to the police and let them decide whether they'll come out. If the police do not come to the scene, then make sure you record all the details of the accident and any damages yourself. 

What Information Should You Collect?

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

  • Find witnesses, if possible.
  • Record the damages, location, and the other party or witness versions of what happened.
  • File your report with the police as soon as you can and give the police officer the details you collected.

You will need to file your own report and insurance claim if the police are not there to help. You can go to a nearby police station and report the accident. In some jurisdictions, you can file a police report for certain accidents online. The information 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.

Always be honest and detailed with the police officer because it will help you in the long run. Filing a detailed and accurate report means the insurance claim process will likely move more quickly.

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

The police are there to help. They will be able to provide support to the parties involved in the crash, interview witnesses, and gather all necessary information about the accident. The cops 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 to help, such as ambulances and fire trucks.
  • Give tickets if this is required due to violations or negligence.
  • Speak to witnesses, third parties, or any other people involved.
  • Evaluate the situation to help avoid scams or other issues.
  • Prepare a report you can later use to file your insurance claim or use in court if needed.

Know How to Contact the Officer Who Filed Your 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 report.

Often after an accident, you may only remember details after you've rested and calmed down. 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.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How long after a car accident can you still file a police report?

Check with local authorities about when you must report an accident, and how quickly you must report it. In California, collisions must be reported within 10 days if there is an injury or at least $1,000 worth of property damage, but these rules will vary by state.

How do I get a copy of the police report from an accident?

There are two ways you can receive a copy of the police report from an accident. First, you can call the responding officers, ask for the initial report identification number, and use that to make an electronic request. Second, you can ask your insurance adjuster if they have a copy of the report.

Article Sources

  1. Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles. "Report a Motor Vehicle Crash."

  2. California Department of Insurance. "So You've Had an Accident, What's Next?"

  3. Law Offices of Anidjar & Levine. "Do I Need to Call the Police if the Car Accident Was Minor?"

  4. Connecticut State Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection. "Reports and Records - Accident Information Summary."

  5. American Family Insurance. "Guide to the Insurance Claims Process After a Car Accident."

  6. Denver Police Department. "Report an Accident - Reporting a Crash During Accident Alerts."

  7. LAPD. "File a Police Report Online."

  8. California Department of Motor Vehicles. "Vehicle Collisions."