When Should You Call the Police After a Car Accident?

In the aftermath of a car accident, there are conditions that may prompt you to avoid calling the police. If there’s not much damage to your car, you might be willing to pay for the damage yourself or attempt repairs on your own – meaning you don’t need any police involvement. Or if you and the other driver have worked out an arrangement, you might feel there’s no need to call the police as an intermediary.

But in all cases, it’s important to call the police after a car accident. We’ll explain why – and how to go about it.

Why It’s Important to Call the Police

The police are going to produce a report that’s going to serve as the official record of events. When they arrive at the scene, they’re going to collect as much information as possible, writing down the state of the road, the damage done to the vehicles and other property, the injuries, and notes from each person’s version of events. The police report that results from this information will describe how the accident occurred – and formalize many pieces of evidence.

This is important for several reasons:

  • It eliminates “he said/she said” discrepancies. If you and the other driver report different facts to your respective insurance companies, it could result in a major disagreement – and possibly end up assigning fault incorrectly. A police report will serve as the official documentation of what happened, so there is no room for argument.
  • It prevents someone from changing their story. Insurance scammers and guilty parties sometimes change their story after they leave the scene. They may tell you they’re at fault and that they’re willing to pay for the damage – but then lie to their insurance company or refuse to admit fault later. In extreme cases, they may even invent fictional passengers they claim were with them at the time – noting their injuries to get more money from insurance. Police reports prevent this from interfering with the case.
  • It makes the scene safer. In minor accidents, a police presence isn’t as vital – but in many cases, police officers need to know that an accident occurred so they can make the scene safer. They can block traffic, redirect traffic in some cases, help clear the road of debris, and set up cones in the meantime. Their mere presence can make other drivers more attentive and cautious, reducing the likelihood of another accident.
  • A chance for an immediate review. This is also an immediate opportunity to review all the information you currently know about the accident. You’ll be able to give your own personal testimony, while it’s still fresh, and ask questions about the accident. You’ll also have a chance to review the report before it’s finalized – and make sure it contains all the information you need.

Steps to Take First

So should calling the police be the first step you take after an accident?

Not necessarily.

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These should be your immediate priorities:

  • Get to safety. First, you should get yourself and any passengers you’re carrying to safety. If you were struck in the middle of the highway, it’s important to get off the highway – otherwise, you’ll continue putting yourself and other people at risk.
  • Clear the road (if possible). If you can, try and clear the road to prevent another accident from occurring. If your car is movable, pull off to the side of the road. If not, you may be forced to leave it there. Don’t worry about picking up debris, especially if there’s potential moving traffic in the area.
  • Call for help (and/or provide help). Next, check to see who, if anyone, needs medical assistance. Call an ambulance if anyone needs emergency attention. You may also be in a position to give someone first aid or help them get to safety.

Once you’ve taken care of these steps, you can and should call the police. You should also take the time to start gathering evidence on your own, such as snapping photos of the aftermath of the accident, getting the license plate number and personal information of the other drivers involved, and even talking to eyewitnesses. Avoid saying too much to the other driver until the police arrive.

After the police report is filed, you’ll be able to begin the next stages of dealing with the car accident. Depending on the complexity of the case, this can be a long and annoying process – it could take weeks to negotiate with insurance companies, talk to a personal injury lawyer, and work to get a settlement. But if you’ve taken all the proper steps after the accident, you should be in a position to win the compensation you deserve.