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Traffic Accidents

Traffic accidents account for millions of dollars in damages and countless injuries each year.

A front-end collision usually requires extensive bodywork. [©Jupiter Images, 2009]
©Jupiter Images, 2009
A front-end collision usually requires extensive bodywork.

Traffic Accidents

Traffic accidents are a common occurrence in the United States. Every driver should know what to do in the event of a traffic accident. There are millions of traffic accidents in the United States each year and there were more than 37,000 fatal accidents in the United States in 2007 according to the Fatality Analysis Report System (FARS).

In addition, some traffic accidents result in lawsuits, as the parties involved disagree over who was at fault and who should therefore be responsible for paying for damages. To avoid legal difficulties, drivers should follow state guidelines regarding the proper procedure when involved in a traffic accident or other collision. Though laws vary from state to state, most states recommend these basic procedures:

  • Document the accident
  • Obtain insurance and contact information for the other driver(s)
  • File a police report


The Consumer Protection Association of America provides a Traffic Accident Checklist that drivers may wish to carry in their glove compartment. It provides a form with all the information a driver involved in an accident should obtain at the scene of the accident.

Obtain Information

Police departments recommend that drivers keep emergency supplies and important documents in the car in case of an accident. This includes a driver's license, proof of ownership, and proof of insurance. It is also recommended that drivers carry a disposable camera to take photos of an accident scene, which can be useful if the accident leads to a court case.

Drivers can also keep a pen and paper in the car and should carefully document any information given by other drivers involved in the incident, passengers in the other car, and pedestrians at the scene.

The following information can be recorded for any other drivers involved in the accident and passengers in other cars:

  • The full name and birth date of any other driver and passengers involved
  • Telephone numbers of all parties
  • Drivers license numbers and expiration dates
  • Insurance company information and expiration date


If the other parties involved in the accident do not own the car involved, the driver should also try to obtain the name, address, telephone number and other contact information for the legal owner of the automobile.

The driver should also document the license plate numbers, expiration dates, and the make and model of any other cars involved in the accident. It is also appropriate to write down the license plate numbers, names, and contact information for any other drivers at the scene who may have witnessed the accident. Police can contact these drivers at a later date if there is a dispute about liability.

Drivers should also note any other information that may be useful if the accident is brought before a court, such as the estimated speed of the car at the time of the accident.

To create an appropriate vehicle emergency kit, drivers can contact their insurance company or their local police and ask about state laws and appropriate procedures in case of an accident. State Farm Insurance provides an information sheet called "What to Do After an Accident" which discuss how to handle the accident (from behavior to information requirements).

Document the Scene of the Accident

Drivers involved in a car accident should attempt to document the scene. According to the State Bar of California the driver can take pictures if possible of the following:

  • Any cars involved in the accident, including license plates
  • Any drivers or passengers involved in the accident
  • Road signs near the accident site
  • The position of all cars after the accident
  • Any evidence of the accident left on the road, including skid marks and debris


Thorough documentation can prevent frivolous or malicious lawsuits and can help police and drivers to determine fault in the case of an accident. If there is no camera available, police and insurance companies recommend that drivers attempt to sketch the accident scene in as much detail as possible.

The more detail the driver records, the better he or she will be able to handle a legal dispute. Drivers should note whether it was day or night, whether streetlights in the area were functioning, whether the roads were wet or icy, and any other factor that might have influenced driving conditions.

File a Police Report

In most states, both drivers are required to stop in the case of a traffic accident. In the state of California, for instance, state law says that an individual who leaves the scene of an accident may be charged with a hit and run, even if not at fault for the accident.

Most states require that both drivers stop in the case of an accident and call the police to file an incident report. In the case where a driver has collided with a parked car, state laws still require that drivers ensure that the owner of the parked vehicle has the appropriate information before leaving the scene.

Drivers should not move their cars after an accident, unless the cars positions pose a threat to their safety or the safety of other drivers. Rather, the driver should wait until it is safe, leave the car, and move to a safe position to call the police.

Some states will not dispatch police to the scene of an accident unless an injury has occurred. In this case, drivers should still file a police report either in person at a local police station or over the phone. Drivers can get the name and badge number of the officer who takes the report.

According to the State Bar of California, drivers should only give the police the information they ask for and should not volunteer information about who was at fault. If there is a legal dispute regarding fault, the police will present factual information taken from the scene to the courts, but any information presented voluntarily can also be used in court.

Notify the Insurance Company

After filing a police report and fully documenting the situation, drivers should notify their insurance companies to report the incident and inquire about the specifics of their insurance requirements. Each insurance company has different policies regarding the reporting procedure and coverage requirements.

Avoiding Accidents

Knowing the proper procedures to follow in case of an auto accident is an important step towards being a responsible driver. If unsure of what steps to take in case of an accident, drivers can call the police and ask for assistance.

To avoid accidents, drivers can consult organizations like the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, which provides tips on safe and defensive driving to help drivers avoid accidents.

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