If you are involved in a vehicle accident, it sometimes can be tempting to not call the police, especially if the accident appears to be minor and fault can be assigned to one driver or the other. The problem with this type of reasoning is that seemingly minor accidents can become major if you or the other driver develops concussion-like symptoms a week later or begins to feel intense neck and back pain, for instance. Then, all of the sudden, the accident is major and huge medical bills (that will be paid by one person’s insurance or the other’s) are soon to follow.
Likewise, handshake agreements and exchanges of information seem very simple at the time of an accident. A person can say, “That was definitely my fault. I’m sorry,” and then change his tune a few days later after consulting with an attorney. Again, a minor accident can become major just a few hours or days after it occurred.
For these reasons and many others, it is best to contact the police after you have been involved in a car or truck accident. Police officers are well trained in how to respond to accidents and how to give everyone involved the proper information.
In addition, a police officer will know immediately if emergency medical care is needed, and s/he can call for it right away, even if you are “sure” that you are all right and do not need medical attention.
The police officer can also take measures to protect the accident scene, another important step. People don’t realize that when they have an accident, not everyone can discern that an accident has occurred in the area. Drivers might not be paying close attention to the two cars stopped in the center lane. Many people are injured further when negligent drivers crash into vehicles that have already collided into one another. A police officer can quickly and effectively divert traffic around the accident scene, preserving it for evidence and keeping all parties safe from other vehicles that are passing by.
Of course, the police officer can also help to determine the cause of the accident and document the case for possible later court hearings. S/he is expertly trained in investigating accident scenes and uncovering the truth. Even if you are sure that you are at fault in an accident, it is highly recommended that you call the police. An officer might have a different opinion that could prove helpful to you and change the percentage of fault in an accident. That could save you lots of money in the future, meaning the difference between paying all of a person’s medical bills or just 50%, for example.
If damage to the vehicles is substantial or if the law was violated in a major way that caused the accident, you must have a police report of the accident, thus calling the police is a no-brainer in such cases.
When the police arrive, be sure to get the name and badge number of the officers and the name of the police agency that they work for, which will be needed as you track down the accident report at a later date. Get the report number, too, to save yourself time.
There might be a fee attached to getting a copy of the police report, but it will pale in comparison with the money that you might be able to save as you take your case into the legal system. Both the courts and insurance companies consider police reports to be an objective summary of what truly transpired during the accident.
If you live in a busy metropolitan area and have only a fender-bender with no major injuries as a result of your collision, a phone call to the police might be in vain. You could be advised simply to exchange information with the other driver. Busy police departments in such areas are unable to respond to all accident calls, but you should try anyway, just in case there is a lull in the day and a nearby officer can respond.
If you are indeed told to simply get the other driver’s information, be sure to collect his/her name, address, telephone number, insurance policy number and carrier, license plate number and state, and driver’s license number. These will all become necessary later, and it is important to remember that some drivers will give false information to escape culpability for the accident and other offenses, such as not having a proper license or insurance coverage.
If you have difficulty getting clear information from the other driver, call the police immediately for help. As you are waiting, you should also call the other driver’s insurance company to verify coverage.
Finally, during the time when you are waiting for the police to arrive, don’t just chat with friends on the phone. Do your best to protect the accident scene from incurring any more damage and limit all conversation with the other driver. NEVER say “It was all my fault” or similar admissions of guilt.
Likewise, when the officer arrives, be careful about what you say to him/her. Give all of the details requested but let the officer determine guilt or innocence.
Later, if you take legal action, your car accident lawyer will be very pleased that you called the police and have a full, objective accident report from which to work. Unless you are in an accident with almost no damage to either vehicle in a busy city, calling the police is always the right action to take.