At a Car Accident Scene, Gather Information and Write It Down

Key information to record while the incident is still fresh.

car accident diagram

After any car accident, if you are injured or your car is damaged, there are several types of key information to gather and write down while you're still at the scene. (Get more tips on First Steps After an Accident)

If the police come to the scene and prepare a report, the report will probably include much of the information that you will need, including contact information for the other driver and information about the other driver's insurance company and policy number, plus names of witnesses.

Even if the police write their own report about your car accident, you should still gather information yourself and write down key things at the scene. Why? Because you will probably need more information than the police report includes. Of course, it is even more important to gather information and write it down if the police don't come to the scene of your car accident.

What Information Should You Collect?

While you're still at the scene, try to gather and write down information about:

  • the vehicles involved in the accident (plate numbers, make and model)
  • the drivers involved (full name and contact info, driver's license number, incurance carrier and policy number)
  • the collision (details as to how it happened)
  • vehicle damage
  • witnesses (names and contact information)
  • the accident scene and conditions
  • your injuries
  • police information (names and badge numbers of responding officers)
  • ambulance information, and 
  • towing information.

A simple way to make sure you collect all of the information you need is to keep this accident investigation form in your glove compartment and use it if you ever get into a car accident. If you don't have the form to guide you, write down as much information as you can at the scene and, as soon as you can, print the form out to help you focus and guide your collection of pertinent accident information.

Remember, it's not just about gathering information. The key is writing it down. Don't trust your memory. It can take months or longer to resolve a car accident claim, and your memory will fade, even if you don't think that will happen. And write down the information as soon as you can. Your memory of the event will only get worse over time. Get things down on paper while the information is fresh.

Here are a few more common sense tips for how to gather and record critical accident information.

Take Pictures

At the scene, use your mobile phone camera to record the key facts of your car accident. A picture is indeed worth a thousand words.

What do you photograph? Here are a few suggestions:

  • The vehicles, before they are moved, to show their positions on the roadway.
  • The damage to both vehicles.
  • Injuries that can be shown on a photo, such as a bruise or a cut.
  • Skid marks
  • Vehicle debris on the road
  • Conditions that contributed to the accident, such as an obscured traffic sign.

You can even take pictures of license plates so that you will have a way to locate witnesses who are reluctant to stick around. (Get more Tips for Taking Car Accident Scene Photos.) 

Identify Witnesses

Sometimes proving fault for a car accident comes down to what the right witness saw. To illustrate the crucial role that a witness can play in a car accident case, let's look at a car accident scenario involving an intersection collision.

Both Driver A and Driver B say they entered the intersection on a green light. Someone's not telling the truth. No one is injured in the crash and the police have not been called to the scene, so there is no police report to help resolve this credibility dispute.

Driver B's insurance company, relying on Driver B's statement, takes the position that Driver B had the green light and the right-of-way. They refuse to pay to repair Driver A's car. That's when Driver A informs the insurance company that there is a witness who saw the whole accident. Driver A gives the insurance company the witness's name and telephone number to the insurance company so they can talk to the witness. The witness corroborates Driver A's side of the story, saying that Driver B entered the intersection when the light was clearly red. A few hours later, Driver B's insurance company calls Driver A and agrees to pay to have Driver A's car fixed.

To protect your interests and avoid having your claim devolve into a "he said, she said" dispute, at the scene of your car accident, gather information -- including names and phone numbers of any witnesses -- and write it down as soon as possible.

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