4 Things to Know About Accident Reports

Even if you haven’t been in a car accident before, you might have an idea of what a police report is. A police report is created by someone who’s a law enforcement officer responding to the scene of some type of accident.  

A highway patrol officer can make an accident report, as can city or county law enforcement. 

The overall goal of these accident reports is to help formalize the information that’s going to be needed to reconstruct and subsequently determine fault in an accident. 

The following are four essential things to know about a vehicle accident report. 

1. What These Reports Include

While it can vary depending on the situation, the state, and the officer, some of the details that an accident report might include are:

  • What started the accident? For example, did someone drive into an intersection when the light was red?
  • Contributory factors are included in a report, which is information about what else might contribute to an accident beyond the starting incident and who may share fault. 
  • Road conditions can include things like wet roads, snow or ice on the road, or low visibility. The road could be gravel, narrow, winding, or have a lot of potholes. These are all things that might be considered contributors to an accident. 
  • Traffic conditions include traffic volume in both directions and the directions the involved vehicles were traveling. 
  • Were there third-party actions that could be relevant? For example, maybe a dog was on the roadway and played a role in the accident. 
  • The report will include details about the top of vehicles. For example, is there an 18-wheeler involved or a motorcycle?
  • The damage to the vehicles will be detailed in an official report. This can tell a lot about what actually happened in an accident and who was likely responsible. 
  • A report includes details about any injuries sustained by people involved in the accident, and it will also go into whether or not the airbags worked, if relevant. 

When a law enforcement officer creates an accident report, it’s usually available two to five days later. 

2. How a Report Can Be Helpful

When you have a police report or vehicle accident report, it can prove the accident actually took place, and it can also be useful to identify which insurance carrier needs to be contacted.

In some states, the officer who responds to the accident scene can declare who’s at fault based on the evidence. In these states, the accident report can be used as evidence for the causation part of a negligence claim. To put it another way, the report can be used to show the driver was the actual and proximate cause of an accident. 

The other benefit of these reports, if you’re involved in an accident, is that they can be used for documentation of injuries, and that makes it easier to then link those injuries to the accident. If you’re trying to claim damages, this can be critical to making your case.  

A defendant could also rely on the report to show they aren’t liable for an accident. 

3. Filing an Insurance Claim Without a Police Report

If the police don’t respond to your accident, you can still file an insurance claim. You first want to make sure that you take plenty of pictures and write down specific details of your accident, similar to what a responding officer would include. For example, you’ll want the date and time of the accident, the location where it occurred, insurance information of anyone involved, details of damages, environmental factors like lighting, weather, and time of day, and witness contact information. 

Whether or not you have a police report, the process of filing a claim with your car insurance is similar. If you do have a report, you can provide the name of the police department and the report number to your insurance company. 

If you don’t have a police report, then you’ll need the detailed information that you collect at the scene. 

4. Filing Your Own Report

You need to contact law enforcement after an accident, no matter what, but they may tell you they aren’t going to respond. 

If the police don’t respond to your accident, you can file your own report. Most states will have an official accident report form that you complete and then mail back to your state’s DMV. Then, they’ll forward a copy to your insurance company. 

The takeaway here is that a police report or accident report can be a key piece of evidence if you’re in an accident.