Car Accident Report: Requirements and Usage

When you’re in a car accident, it can be hard to think about what to do next. You may be concerned about the safety of others in your vehicle or injuries you have sustained. Traffic may be zipping by dangerously close, and strangers may be hovering around you asking questions.

accident report

In a situation where there are injuries or if cars have been damaged too heavily to drive away, it makes sense to call police for assistance. But a fender-bender probably doesn’t require summoning a police officer; in fact, some municipalities will tell you that they won’t send an officer just to take a report if no one is injured and both vehicles can be driven away.

Accident reports are documents that establish the sequence of events leading up to an accident. They are legally binding, so making any false statements can be a misdemeanor offense called filing a false police report. Regardless of whether you agree with the other driver as to the sequence of events you should file your own version of what happened. Usually insurance companies and police can figure out what happened and who was at fault by the way vehicles were damaged in an accident.

Looking at the numbers

In the United States, nearly 38,000 people were killed in auto accidents in 2017, with millions more injured. That’s one of the highest death tolls in 25 years, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. In the U.S. there are:

  • 264 million registered vehicles;

  • 218 million licensed drivers, and

  • 6.3 million reported auto accidents (all types, all levels of severity) each year.

In some cases drivers may agree to handle damages privately. If the accident is minor, or involves only one vehicle that’s not significantly damaged, it may not require an accident report for police purposes, but that requirement varies from state to state and there can be drawbacks to trying to save money this way.

Reporting accidents

Many people believe that handling a minor accident by mutual agreement with the other vehicle’s owner will avoid an increase in your insurance premium in the future, but insurance industry experts say it could backfire. If you do not report an accident and the other party discovers more widespread damage or hidden injuries later, your insurance company may not cover it, leaving you on the hook for expensive damages.

States have their own requirements for accident reporting, for instance:

  • California requires a report if there’s $1,000 or more in damage or injuries of any kind, whether on a public road or private property. Drivers in this state are required to have liability insurance. Each fine levied for traffic infractions will stay on your driver’s license for 36 months as a conviction, and the number of convictions is tallied to determine if you’re a negligent driver, which could result in having your license suspended.

  • New York requires drivers to exchange information, to find and notify owners of any property that was damaged (such as a parked car or a mailbox at a residence), to file a police report within 10 days if more than $1,000 in damage was incurred, and to call the police immediately if anyone was killed.

  • Oregon requires a report to be filed within 72 hours if there’s $2,500 in damages to any vehicle or property or if a vehicle was towed from the scene.

  • In Illinois, if you fail to stop and exchange information with the other driver in an accident you may be charged with a misdemeanor and fined; the state also suggests getting the names and contact information for any witnesses to accidents. The state requires that you keep proof of insurance in your vehicle.

Accident reports

It’s always a good idea to keep a copy of your accident report. Police may charge a fee for a copy to be used in a court case or submitted to your insurance company. Some allow accident reports to be requested online using the license plate number or driver’s license number of the individuals involved, often through the website of the town police department where the accident took place or through the state police website.

car accident

The aftermath: points and your driving privilege

Accidents often have repercussions, including higher insurance premiums. In North Carolina your insurance may increase as much as 30 percent if you’re found at fault in an accident. Be sure to understand how an accident can affect the amount that you pay, including the deductible and any points that may be accrued.

A deductible is the amount you’re obligated to pay before your insurance coverage kicks in.

Insurance points are accrued on your account for each infraction, whether an accident or speeding ticket. When you reach a certain level it may trigger higher premiums to maintain the same coverage. You may be able to reduce your points by taking safe driving classes or paying a lump sum.

States also “award” points on your driving record for accidents and other traffic infractions. If you accrue a certain number (which differs from state to state), authorities may seek to suspend your driver’s license. Each state has its own period for recording points: those for minor infractions likely disappear after a couple of years of clean driving, but major infractions may stay on your record much longer (such as DUI).

License retesting and suspension

Police or doctors may decide, based on the number of incidents (points) that a person has recorded, to require a driver’s license retest to determine his fitness to be behind the wheel. Each state has its own procedures for this, such as North Carolina’s which is not administered based solely on age but requires additional conditions such as medical issues that may cause seizures, poor eyesight, or a series of previous accidents.

In New York, a DMV license examiner summons the individual to the DMV and will often require a doctor’s statement saying whether the person is fit to drive, and a written as well as practical driving tests are administered. If the individual fails any portion his license is suspended until the test is retaken and passed.

An emergency medical technician (EMT), friend, or family member can request a driver’s recertification test in most states including California. These are often required if a person has been observed driving erratically or is known to have a medical condition that makes driving a hazard to himself or others. These medical conditions can also be self-reported on license applications and renewal forms.

If an individual fails a recertification test, there is a process for appealing the DMV decision to suspend or revoke his license but it may require a waiting period before retesting may take place.