Written by attorney John Paul Burns


You have just been in an accident in your car, motorcycle or truck. After you make sure that you, your passengers and the people in the other vehicles are safe, the first thing on your mind should be to call 911 and ask for the police to come. In addition to all the common sense things for which you need an officer, you want to have an officer complete a police report, which is also called a Traffic Collision Report. Sometimes one of the other drivers will say it was his or her fault, offer to pay for your vehicle damage and ask that you not call the police. That is something that you do not want to do. Many times these drivers change their minds as soon as they leave the collision scene. Then you have to try to chase them down to get the matter resolved. One of the first problems you will encounter is the 911 or police operator asking you the same question they always ask: "Is anyone injured?" The problem that it creates for you is that, if you answer "no," many police departments will not send an officer to investigate. The Traffic Collision Report is very valuable to you, after a collision, and you want to have an officer complete one, if at all possible. I suggest that you answer that you do not need an ambulance, but do need an officer to respond. That way you are not tying up an ambulance that might be needed more elsewhere. At the same time, you are making it clear that you want an officer to come to the accident scene. If you can get an officer to complete a report, you have just overcome the first of the problems you are going to have to deal with after a motor vehicle collision. There are several benefits you will obtain by having the report completed. One of the first benefits of having the officer complete a report is that the officer will obtain important information from all the drivers in the collision. The officer is trained to obtain the other drivers' names, addresses and phone numbers, as well as the license plate numbers of the vehicles and the registered owner of each vehicle. The officer will also obtain the names of the insurance companies and the policy number of each driver. This information will become very important at a later date. It will be essential to have in the event the other driver or drivers fail to report the accident to their insurance companies. The police officer will separate the drivers and start taking statements from each one by one. The officer will ask the drivers what happened and will then re-state their explanations in a general way in the report. People sometimes try to lie to the police officer, but most of them will give an honest statement to a uniformed officer. The statements are also being taken not long after the accident occurred, so the memories of the drivers are most accurate. These statements will be very valuable at a later time, especially if the other driver decides to change his or her story. It will be very hard for drivers who change their stories to convince others, such as insurance adjusters or a jury, that they didn't say what the police officer wrote down, right after the accident. The officer is also trained to observe and record any physical evidence available. If there are skid marks, the officer will measure their length, direction of skid and which vehicle they came from. Using the length of these skid marks and the make, model and weight of the vehicle leaving them, it is possible to accurately calculate the speed of that vehicle prior to impact of the accident. If a lawsuit occurs, trained accident investigators can make these mathematical calculations from the physical evidence recorded by the officer. Using the skid marks and this physical evidence, the officer will plot the point of impact (POI) of the vehicles. If there was more than one vehicle involved, the officer will calculate and diagram all the POI's for all the vehicles. These POI's are some of the first things that insurance adjusters look at in determining who was at fault in an accident. Using all of the physical evidence and statements, the officer will come up with a cause of the accident. The officer will indicate which driver the officer finds was at fault for the collision. The officer will often include the state vehicle code section that the at-fault driver violated in causing the collision. After the accident, the officer should give you a small card with his or her name and badge number. That card will also have the report number and the place you can obtain the written report. When the officer finds one of the other drivers at fault, you have resolved one of the main issues in your case. This is because the insurance adjuster of the at-fault party, once he or she receives a copy of the report, is going to believe the officer before believing the insured driver. What the officer writes in the report is viewed as the most accurate and unbiased statement of who caused the accident. This is important for you, because once the insurance company of the at-fault driver accepts liability for their insured's accident, that insurance company will authorize payment for the repair of your vehicle. This means that, should you have a deductible on your own policy, the at-fault driver's insurance company will pay for the repair of your vehicle without you having to pay a deductible. If the police won't come, then you are going to have to shake off the effects of the accident long enough to do the following: Write down the license plate numbers of all vehicles in the collision. In cases where the other drivers are unwilling or unable to talk to you, this may be all the information that you can obtain. Even if that is all you can obtain, it will later be possible to find the registered owners of the vehicles and thus provide the information needed for your claim. If you can, however, try to get the name, address and phone number of every other driver in the collision. Do the same for all their passengers or witnesses not in one of the vehicles. Also, ask the other drivers to exchange driver's licenses so that you and they can each write down the driver's licenses of all the drivers in the collision. Obtain the name and policy number of the insurance company for each of the drivers. Ask to see a copy of the proof of insurance of each driver to make sure he or she actually has automobile insurance. Check the dates of coverage to make sure that the insurance is still in effect on the date of the accident. Be sure to write down the other person's insurance policy number. Some people carry inexpensive digital cameras in their car just in case of an accident. If you have a camera in your vehicle, or a cell phone with a camera in it, take photos of the license plate numbers and visible damage to all the vehicles. The photos may prove very valuable to you later. A motor vehicle accident can be a terrifying experience and the aftermath is often just as difficult. I hope that you are never in such an accident and that you are never injured. However, if it does happen to you, you should try to obtain a police Traffic Collision Report. If you do, you will see that it was a good idea to ask the police to come to the accident scene and provide you with the report that will become so important for you and your case afterward.

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