Do you have to file a police report for a car accident?
UPDATED: July 6, 2020
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What you need to know...
- State laws determine whether you need to file a police report after a car accident.
- Most states don't require an accident report for minor accidents.
- One, none, or all drivers involved in an accident may receive citations depending on the circumstances.
- It's usually in your best interest to file a police report in order to protect yourself, whether it's required or not.
An average driver will experience a car accident every 18 years, but do you have to file a police report for a car accident? For most minor car accidents, the short answer is no.
In most states, you aren't required to file a police accident report unless there was substantial damage, injury, or death. But when it comes to your insurance, it will be your word against the other driver's if there is no traffic accident report.
It's actually in your best interest to file a police incident report simply to have an accident report for your car insurance claim, especially if someone denies hitting your car. Checking your state's traffic laws is the easiest way to know for sure if you need to file a police report after a car accident.
Follow this guide to find your state's laws and what to do when you file a police report for a car accident. If you need to find a lawyer for your car accident, click here to connect with a lawyer near you.
Do you have to have a police report for an accident?
State laws determine whether drivers have to file a police report after a car accident.
According to AAA, most states only require an accident report after accidents that result in death, injury, or property damage of $500 or more. Check out this video for more information:
Nevada and Ohio are the only two states that require drivers to file an accident report for each and every car accident, even minor accidents and fender benders.
Can you file a car accident claim without a police report?
Although it's not always required, the main reason you want to have a police report after an accident is for your insurance claim. A car accident claim without a police report could be denied or you could end up with a lower settlement.
Even if there are no injuries and only minor damage, your insurance company may ask for details about the accident. Without an official accident report, it will be your word against the other driver's, and not everyone is honest.
You can file an insurance claim after a car accident without a police report, but the police report will work to your advantage if you're dealing with high-value claims, if you intend to sue someone for lying about a car accident, or if you're in any other situation in which you need to hire a car accident attorney.
Should you file a police report for a fender bender?
A fender bender is a minor car accident where there are no injuries and minimal damage. Because it's relatively minor, you may wonder: do I need to file a police report after a fender bender at all?
Most states don't require an accident report for minor accidents.
However, it's in your best interest to call the non-emergency police near you to file a crime report. They will know what to do about a minor car accident with no damage, and the police report will document the scene and events of the accident in case you decide to move forward with an attorney.
Depending on your state laws, there may be legal consequences for not having a police report after a car accident, no matter how minor. You may not have to call law enforcement to the scene, but it's best to file a police report online before calling your insurance company.
If you don't want to file a police report for a fender bender, you should make your own record of the events. Be sure to take photos of both vehicles, regardless of whether there is damage or not, and exchange insurance and contact information with the other driver. This will help your insurance company determine fault and provide you with the fairest settlement possible.
How many days after a car accident can you file a police report?
Each state dictates how long after a car accident you can file a police report. It all depends on where you live. You might have one day or up to six months to file a police report after a car accident, and some states even require drivers to file a police report immediately after the accident, no matter the circumstances.
You must immediately call the police if you're involved in a major car accident where a victim is killed or there are severe injuries.
You must also immediately call the police if the damage caused by the accident exceeds the amount of money specified by state traffic laws. For example, Wisconsin requires drivers to file police reports when the damage exceeds $1,000 while Florida requires an accident report for damage exceeding $500.
As you can see, there are a lot of different factors to consider, so how long do you have to file a police report after a car accident? Refer to this table to see how long you have in your state:
How to File a Police Report after a Car Accident
When you're in a car accident, call the police immediately while you're still at the scene. If there are no injuries, you can call the non-emergency police line. Otherwise, call 911.
The officers will arrive and conduct an investigation to file their report. They will take a statement from you, the other driver(s), and any passengers or witnesses. The police report will also include:
- Date and time of the accident
- Personal information of drivers
- Contact information of witnesses
- Description of the scene and vehicles involved
- Diagram of the scene
One, none, or all drivers involved could be ticketed depending on the nature of the accident. If you're ticketed, your driving record and car insurance rates could change after an accident. The table below shows how much a company may raise your insurance after just one accident.
|Companies||Average Rates With a Clean Record||Average Rates With 1 Accident|
It will take the police at least a day to file the traffic accident report. It's up to you to request that a copy of the police report be sent to your insurance company.
What if I didn't call the police after the accident?
If the accident was minor and you exchanged information with the other driver, you can file a police report online afterward. Check the table above to see how soon after an accident you have to file a police report in your state.
You can also call your local police station to file an accident report. If you're looking for a car accident police report sample, the U.S. General Services Administration provides accident report forms for drivers.
What happens if there is no police report after a car accident?
If there is a car accident, no police report, and no witness — did the accident even happen?
Without a police report, there's no official record of your car accident. Any claims made on your insurance will rely on your word against the other driver's, and you may not be protected if you discover damages after the fact.
Can you sue someone for a car accident without a police report?
A police report isn't always necessary for litigation or to determine who is at fault in an accident, but it does help. Your state's at-fault laws might be very clear, but if you live in a state with no-fault insurance laws, a police report could make or break your case.
In no-fault states, you must prove that the other driver was driving negligently while you were driving safely. This is much easier to prove with a traffic accident report than without, and that's what you'll need to do if someone denies hitting your car.
If the other driver or their car insurance company denies liability in the accident, your accident lawyer can use the police report to prove negligence. Your own record of events can also help, especially if you took photos and witness statements. While your record is less official than a police report, it will still stand as evidence in court.
How to Get a Car Accident Police Report
If you have been involved in a car accident, you have several things that you will need do after the crash in order to prepare a car insurance claim. One of the most important things that is easy to overlook is finding a copy of the car accident police report filled out by the responding officer. The police officer’s car accident report can be critical to obtaining the insurance coverage you need and should be part of every car accident claim.
TIP: A car accident insurance claim without a police report will be incomplete and increase the risk of claim denial or a low settlement offer. You need to include all possible information about your crash in order to receive the full value of your insurance claim.
How to Find a Car Accident Police Report
Finding a car accident police report is a relatively simple process that can be accomplished by following a few steps:
- Call the number listed on the business card of the officer who responded to your accident and compiled the report. If you did not get a business card, call the police station and ask for the officer who you worked with.
- When you speak to the officer responsible for your car accident report, explain to him who you are, and give some details of the crash to help him remember. If you leave a message, give a brief reason why you are calling, your name, and a number where you can be reached.
- If the officer is unable to help you, you can either speak to a receptionist with the police department or call your local courthouse and ask for a clerk. Once you determine what department has your car accident police report on file, you may need to go to the police station or the courthouse to get a copy. You may need to pay a fee, so bring some cash with you.
- If you are unable to get the police accident report from either the courthouse or the police department, call your insurance company and the insurance company for the other driver to see if either insurer has it. If so, ask for them to mail a copy to you.
- You may also be able to find your police report at your local DMV office. Some DMV offices provide the car accident police report after it has been submitted to them by the responding officer. Contact your local DMV for more information
You may need to be patient and persistent in your search for the police accident report, however, you should keep at it until you are able to get a copy. The police accident report is a critical element to your insurance claim, and you will need to review it before taking action to recover insurance money.
What to Do with the Police Accident Report
Once you have a copy of the police report, you will need to review it and find out what the official version of events is. It is likely the insurance company or the other driver will have a copy of the report – particularly for high-value claims – so you should be prepared to use the report to support your version of events, or, if the car accident police report wrongly indicates you were at fault, to refute the officer's assessment of your accident.
If you need assistance reviewing the report, or you believe the police officer’s version of events does not accurately reflect the car accident, you can reach out to a car accident attorney for assistance. Car insurance lawyers typically offer free consultations and can help you get the insurance coverage you deserve after an accident.
Do you have to file a police report for a car accident?
No matter who is at fault in a car accident, a traffic accident report will act as an official record of events. It can be used by insurance companies and in a court of law to determine fault and settlements.
Not every state requires a police report for every car accident, but it's in your best interest as a driver to file a police report in order to protect yourself. This video explains how to get a copy of the police report:
If you don't call the police right away, you can always report an accident to the police after the fact.
Refer back to this guide to determine how many days after a car accident you have to file a police report. If you need legal guidance, you can enter your ZIP code in the tool below to begin your search for a local car accident attorney near you.