If you're involved in a car accident, one of the first things you should do is call the police. A trained police officer can be an invaluable source of help and information in such a confusing situation. A police officer can:
- provide or call for emergency medical care (of course, if there are injuries, someone should call 911 as soon as possible, before calling the police)
- protect the accident scene, and
- investigate and document the cause of the accident.
In cases involving injuries, substantial damage to the vehicles, or significant motor vehicle law violations, the officer will write a police report of a car accident. Make sure to get the name and badge number of the officer and the police agency that the officer represents so you can get a copy of the accident report after it's written. Also get the report number if it's available. There will probably be a small charge for the police report, but it's worth it. The police accident report is a critical document which is relied upon fairly heavily by everyone involved in the claims process.
If You Have a Fender-Bender With No Injuries
Should you still call the police even if your accident is just a minor one? The answer is usually yes. Even after a minor accident, a police officer can help you sort things out, and document what happened in case that becomes important in the future. However, in many metropolitan areas, the police probably won't come to the scene of your minor fender-bender. They will simply tell you to exchange information with the other driver. The police will not prepare a report in this situation.
If the Police Tell You to Just Exchange Information
If you do call the police, and they tell you to just exchange information with the other driver, what information should you exchange? At a minimum, make sure you get from the other driver(s) -- and that the other driver(s) get from you -- the following information:
- Telephone numbers
- Name of car insurance company
- Policy number
- Name, address and telephone number of insurance representative that you should contact about this accident.
- License plate number (and state in which the car is registered)
Ask to see documents from which you can copy this information, such as a driver's license and an insurance verification card. Why? Sometimes, drivers -- such as those who don't have insurance -- will give false information if you don't verify what they are telling you. If they won't verify their information, call the police and insist that the driver stay until the police arrive.
If you are suspicious about the information you are getting, call the other driver's insurance company from the scene of the accident to verify for yourself that the other driver has given you accurate information. But only verify coverage. Don't give accident details to the other driver's insurance company. Not yet. You'll do that later, after you're away from the scene of your accident and have calmed down.
If the Police Are On Their Way
If you call the police, and they do send an officer to the scene of your minor accident, they may give it a low priority. It could take up to one hour for an officer to arrive after you call the police. Wait for them. What should you do while you are waiting for them to arrive?
Here are some tips and links to more information:
- Assess the situation
- Help anyone who is hurt
- Protect the scene against further damage, and
- Don't make any agreements with the other driver at the scene.
Once the police officer arrives, speak only with him or her about the specifics of your accident. Provide the information that the officer requests, but be careful what you say even to the officer.