Car accident reports are essential to protect your rights if you are involved in a collision. Upon arriving at the scene of an accident, police officers speak with the parties involved in the crash, as well as any witnesses. This information forms the basis of the accident report, which will be filed with the proper authorities -typically the Department of Motor Vehicles- in the jurisdiction where the collision occurred.
How to File a Report
Whenever you are involved in an accident, no matter how minor it appears to be, call 911. With a police officer on the scene, you will have a record of what happened in case other parties involved change their stories in the future, which happens more often than you might think. If you are not able to call when the accident occurs, do so as soon as possible afterward or stop by the closest police station.
You do not need to file the report yourself. A law enforcement officer will ask questions and then file it for you. The officer may tell you a report is not required if there are no injuries or property damage. Ask him or her to file one anyway.
Information Included on Vehicle Accident Reports
Each state uses its own form to document vehicle collisions, so the actual information required may vary depending on where a particular vehicle accident occurs. Typically, the forms used to file these types of reports include the following information:
- Location of the accident
- Identity and contact information for drivers and passengers involved
- Details about drivers' motor vehicle licensure
- Names and contact information of witnesses to the accident
- Detailed information on all vehicles involved in the collision
- Vehicle identification number
- Registration number
- Description of what occurred
- Explanation of conditions at the time of the crash
- Diagram of the accident scene
- Notations of any injuries resulting from the accident
- Documentation of property damage related to the crash
In general, insurance companies use accident reports simply as a way to determine fault. This helps them determine if and how much they need to pay out. Since a representative from the insurance company will not be on the scene, it's important that you obtain a copy of the report to submit to the insurance or tell your insurance agent how to get a copy. Note that filing a police report does not equate to filing an insurance claim. Each must be dealt with separately.
Getting a Copy of the Accident Report
At the time of the accident, the police officers who respond will give each party involved a case number and provide information about how to obtain a copy of the report. It generally takes up to five business days for the official report to be ready. The quickest way to receive it is to pick it up in person at the police station.
Older Accident Reports
As long as you know the jurisdiction where an accident occurred, you should be able to order accident reports for collisions that occurred further in the past as well. Contact the police department in that area and ask to speak with someone in the records division for information on how to pick one up or have one mailed to you. Oftentimes, you can make the request online. In most cases, it will cost you between $5 and $20 for printing and research.
Retain the Report
When you get your report, make a couple copies and put them in a safe place. You never know when you may need one in the future. This is especially true if the accident leads to a court case down the road. You want a record of exactly what happened so you don't have to rely on heresy or simply your memory of the events. It could save you a lot of time, money, and hassle.