Not all car accidents unfold on a massive scale. There may not be a rollover that totals one of the vehicles, or a multi-car pileup that makes the evening news. Instead, you might gently rear end someone at a red light, or you might have your car bumped in a parking lot by a driver who was backing up without checking behind them.
In these light “fender bender” situations, you may be more annoyed than worried about the damages, and you may be more concerned about the time it would take to deal with the accident than whatever it would cost to repair the vehicle. Accordingly, you and the other driver involved may be in agreement that the best course of action is to avoid calling the police, or even avoid contacting insurance companies to keep things as simple as possible.
But is this ever a good idea?
The Purpose of a Police Report
Let’s start by explaining why a police report is important in the world of car accidents. Police reports serve as an official version of events—an unbiased, third-party initiated review of the situation. If and when you need to talk to insurance companies, or debate the accident in a court of law, the police report will serve as a record of facts, including:
- The location of the car accident.
- The date and time the car accident occurred.
- The extent of the damage sustained by the vehicles involved, the people involved, and the property surrounding the area.
- The drivers and passengers involved, directly or indirectly.
- Environmental information, such as the current weather.
Without these facts, you’ll be depending on the firsthand reports and evidence gathered by each party.
The Risks of Failing to Get a Police Report
If you and the other driver seem to agree on all the details, it may seem like the police report is a needless formality that will only waste your time. But if you don’t get this documentation, you’ll face significant risks.
For example, the other driver may tell you they’re fine with a cash exchange, but they may decide to contact your insurance company anyway, reporting the accident. In some cases, they may even contact a car accident attorney to try and sue you for damages.
If the driver is intentionally misleading or scheming, they may:
- Alter their story. Initially, they may admit fault and say they weren’t paying attention. But later, they may change their story, and report to the insurance company that you merged into their lane suddenly without looking. This may be incredibly hard to disprove without any evidence or a formal version of events.
- Recruit additional “witnesses.” To strengthen their story, a malicious driver may try to recruit additional witnesses to add context and support. In some cases, they may claim additional people were in their vehicle—they may bribe or persuade a friend to pose as an additional passenger who backs up their version of events.
- Fabricate additional damages. In other cases, drivers will try to fabricate additional damages to get more compensation from you or your insurance company. This may include additional damages to the vehicle that weren’t part of the original accident, or personal injuries that either don’t exist or aren’t as severe as they’re making them out to be.
If this happens, and you have no official record of events like a police report to back up your side of the story, you may find yourself in a bad situation.
Additionally, you may have sustained damages that don’t appear on the surface. For example, if you were rear ended, you may suffer from whiplash—without realizing it immediately. Your symptoms and other injuries may only become noticeable a few days after the accident, and if the other driver was responsible, you may have little to no recourse against them.
Alternative Forms of Evidence
If you have many other forms of evidence on your side, the pressure to get a police report is a bit lower. For example, if you have a dash cam running at all times, you may have complete video of the events that led up to the accident (as well as the events after it), as well as a timestamp to prove when it happened. You may have additional photo and video evidence to protect yourself—including proof of damages. However, it’s still a good idea to spend a few minutes getting a formal police report.
The bottom line is that it’s wise to get a police report, no matter how big or small your accident was. It doesn’t take long to get an official record of events, and could save you a lot of time, money, and headaches in the future.