The aftermath of a car accident can be a scary and stressful time. And in the midst of the chaos, it’s easy to forget the importance of documenting everything for the post-accident claim process.

According to a recent Esurance report, most drivers are making critical missteps following a crash (though 85 percent think they’re doing all the right things).

With that in mind, check out these guidelines to learn when you should file a police report after an accident.

If there are injuries …

If you or anyone involved in the accident appear to have injures, call 911 immediately. Even injuries that seem non-life threatening or mild should be checked out by an experienced medical professional. In fact, many states require reporting any accident that results in injury. Police on the scene will be able to gather all the necessary information surrounding the accident and its circumstances, which they will later compile into the official accident report. These reports are extremely useful in the event of a insurance claim or personal injury lawsuit, documenting everything from driver, passenger, and witness statements to potential causes and any other pertinent observations made by the officer.

If there are no injuries …

Even in the case of minor accidents with no obvious injuries, it’s good practice to call the police to the scene to help document the incident (some states may even require you, by law, to do so). An official accident report from the police will help move the claim process along faster. If the police don’t report to the scene (which is possible, especially if their are no obvious injuries), you may be able to file an accident report after the fact with your local police department or with your state’s DMV. Protocol varies by jurisdiction, so check with your local municipality to see if you have the option to file an official accident report in person or online after an accident has taken place.

Always exchange information

It’s always a good idea to document the event to the best of your ability and exchange critical information with any other involved parties (including potential witnesses). Use your smartphone to take pictures of the scene and document any damage. If other parties are involved, be sure to exchange names, contact info, and car insurance information.

Don’t try to determine fault

The police report plays a critical role in determining who’s at fault in the event of an accident. Insurers will often heavily favor an official accident report, especially if the parties involved have differing accounts of the event in question. Fully cooperate with police at the scene and answer any questions they may have, but refrain from admitting fault directly. Let the facts speak for themselves and the police and insurers will likely arrive at an objective conclusion after they complete a thorough investigation.

Insurance 101 | Safe and smart


about Rebecca

Rebecca is a freelance copywriter and editor living in the SF Bay Area with her husband and two kids. She enjoys productively channeling her anxiety into safety-minded articles for home and garden, running with her robot trainer, and advocating on behalf of the Oxford comma.