Learn about the importance of accident reports and what information should be included.
State laws require accident reports be filed following most vehicle crashes. The actual law varies by state, and some states do not require drivers to file an accident report in certain circumstances. For example, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts only requires drivers to file an accident report if property damage was more than $1,000 or there were injuries as a result of the accident. Drivers in Massachusetts also do not need to file a report if the accident occurred on private property, such as a private parking lot, road or driveway.
Accident reports are used by local law enforcement jurisdiction to determine dangerous roadways. The reports are also useful in court proceedings and many insurance companies require a copy of the report before they can file a claim.
When law enforcement is called out to a motor vehicle accident, the responding officers write their own accident reports. These police reports are typically public record and can be purchased for a small fee. In some cases - such as in the instance of a criminal investigation -- the records may not be considered public information and the law enforcement agency will release them only to those involved, including attorneys and respective insurance companies. Although the responding police officers write their own reports, they may also instruct the drivers to file a counter-accident report, which allows both drivers to give their accounts of the accident.
Drivers may also need to file their own accident reports if the crash happened during an accident alert situation. According to Colorado State Patrol, an accident alert is issued when poor weather conditions make it impossible for police to respond to the large number of accidents. If an accident happens during an accident alert, the drivers are allowed to leave the scene of the accident and file their reports within a designated number of days. If the driver is unsure whether the accident requires police response, either because of an accident alert or because the accident was minor, it is important to call the nonemergency number of the local law enforcement agency for guidance. If police response is not required, the agency can provide information on filing the accident report.
Each state and municipality has its own accident report forms, but the information needed to complete the form is generally the same. It is important to write down pertinent details about the accident while at the scene to make filling out a report later easier and more accurate. The State Bar of California recommends drivers exchange their information, regardless of police response. This includes: the other driver's contact information and insurance information including driver's license number and expiration date; the other vehicle's information, including vehicle identification number, license plate number and expiration; information about the vehicle's owner if different from the driver; information of all other passengers; the names, phone numbers and addresses of all witnesses; the license plate numbers of witnesses who would not give information or left the scene before the police arrived; the name and badge number of the responding police officers; and a description of how the accident happened in a simple diagram, including the position of both cars and any traffic signs, lights and intersections.
Whether an accident report is needed when filing a claim with an auto insurance company is dependent on state laws and the individual car owner's policy. In states with no-fault laws, insurance companies do not need to determine who was responsible for the accident, making the accident report may be irrelevant. Some insurance companies require an accident or police report for every claim regardless of local regulations. This practice reduces the number of fraudulently reported claims. Each state also has an insurance regulation office that can provide guidance to motorists when preparing a claim.