If you are involved in a minor car accident, you might be left wondering whether you have to call the cops or not.
If the damage incurred is minimal and nobody is hurt, it can seem like an inconvenience to get the police involved, however, it’s still a good idea to call them anyway, as this could help you later on in the claim process.
Why call the police?
Most states will require you to notify law enforcement when a car accident results in injuries, and/or causes vehicle damage over a certain monetary amount.
However, it’s a good idea to call the police even if the damage is minimal and nobody is injured.
Car accidents can be confusing, and having a trained officer on hand - either from the local police or sheriff's department - can be an invaluable source of information and can prevent you from making rash decisions.
A law enforcement officer can:
- protect the scene of the accident
- investigate and document the potential causes
- provide or call for emergency medical care (though in the case of serious car accident injuries someone should of course call 911 straight away, before calling the police)
Accidents resulting in injuries
In accidents where injuries have been sustained, there’s substantial damage to the vehicles, or where there have been violations of motor laws, the officer is required to complete a police report.
In this instance, you should take down the name and badge number of the officer and the police agency, as well as the report number if possible, so that you can acquire a copy of the accident report after it's been filed.
It is likely that you’ll be charged a small amount for the report, but it's worth it, as this is a vital source of information and evidence that is relied upon heavily during the insurance claim or car accident lawsuit process.
Accidents with no injuries involved
As we said above, even if the accident is a minor one, and no injuries were incurred, it’s still best to notify the police.
A law enforcement officer can help you sort out the next steps and document what happened. However, if the accident takes place in a metropolitan area, it’s likely that the police won't come to the scene of a minor accident.
They’ll probably just tell you to exchange information with the other driver, and usually, no police report will be prepared.
If the police tell you to exchange information
If you call law enforcement and you’re told simply to exchange information, you might be left wondering what information you should actually exchange.
You should try to get the following information from the other driver(s) -- and give this information to the other driver(s) too:
- 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).
When taking down this information, it’s best to ask for the driver’s documents (ie a license and insurance verification card) so you can copy down this information directly.
The reason for this is that occasionally, drivers who don't have car insurance will simply give false information if you don't ask for any verification.
If they refuse to verify their information, call the police and insist that the driver stays on the scene until law enforcement arrives.
If at any time you have a bad feeling about the information you are getting, it’s a good idea to call the other driver's insurance company from the scene of the accident. This way, you can verify the information for yourself.
However, make sure you only verify the driver’s insurance coverage. Don't give any further details regarding the accident to the other driver's insurance company.
You'll do this at a later stage when you’re away from the accident and are not acting in the heat of the moment.
If the police are coming
If you’re involved in a minor accident and call the police and they do decide to send an officer to the scene, the agency may give it a low priority. This means you may be left waiting a while (up to one hour) for the officer to arrive.
This can be a little frustrating, but it’s important to wait for them. However, while you wait you can use the time to assess the situation and if required, do the following:
- help anyone who is hurt
- gather evidence
- get the information of the other driver(s) involved
- get the names and contact information of any witnesses
- protect the scene against further damage
While you’re waiting, it’s important to watch what you say to the other driver and anyone else at the scene. Even if the other driver seems friendly and open, it’s important not to discuss things in detail until law enforcement arrives.
When the police officer arrives, speak only with him or her about the specifics of the accident. Provide any information that the officer requests, but remember to be careful about what you say regarding the accident, as any statement you make could end up in the final police report.
If you’re involved in a minor car accident, it can sometimes seem like a great inconvenience to have to phone the police, and the temptation can often be to drive off and simply leave it between yourself and the other driver(s) involved.
This may be what the police advise you to do, however, even in minor accidents, it’s best to phone law enforcement and notify them regardless. After all, it’s better safe than sorry.
This way, they can either advise you to swap details with the other person, or they can send an officer to the scene who will create a police report and advise you on the next steps.
Regardless, a police officer can be a good source of information and support and can ensure you have all the information required. Their report may also play a vital role if the accident results in any claims or lawsuits.