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When Do You Need to File a Police Report After a Motor Vehicle Accident?

Police officer taking notes

A car accident is a traumatic experience, both physically and emotionally. Even those who survive with few to no injuries often struggle to get back behind the wheel of a vehicle. The impact of just a single collision is enough to change the course of some victims’ futures.

Car accidents are far from an uncommon occurrence in Pennsylvania. In 2020 alone, car crashes injured 61,248 people and killed another 1,129. There were also approximately 286 reportable collisions per day, or 12 per hour. This figure does not include accidents that were never reported to police.

If you are a licensed driver, you should know when you are supposed to file a police report after a motor vehicle accident.

Pennsylvania Crash Accident Report Law

Pennsylvania state law does not require drivers to report every single collision. Instead, drivers only have to file a report if certain conditions are met. You should always report an accident if it involves any of the following:

  • The injury or death of anyone involved in the accident, including drivers, passengers, pedestrians, bicyclists, and bystanders.
  • Damage to either vehicle that makes it impossible to drive away from the scene, requiring towing.
  • Accidents involving school buses, even if no children are present at the time of the crash.
  • Damage to any property maintained by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT). This includes traffic signs and guide rails.

Even single-vehicle accidents must be reported to police if any of the above conditions are met. For example, if you lose control on the interstate, hit a guard rail, and then crash into a tree that disables your vehicle, you should file a police report.

Drivers are also only required to file police reports for accidents that occur on roads that are open to the public.

How to File a Police Report After a Car Accident

You have up to five days to file a car accident report with Pennsylvania law enforcement. Reporting the crash sooner rather than later is almost always better, though. Ideally, you’ll want police officers at the scene of the accident when filing your report.

While there, police can collect information directly from everyone involved. They may also choose to issue citations or traffic tickets if necessary.

Whether you report the accident at the scene of the crash or later on within the five-day limit, you should be sure to help collect and provide the following information:

  • The date, time, and weather conditions at the time of the accident. Include details about whether it was dark or if there was limited visibility due to fog or other adverse driving conditions.
  • The personal information of all involved drivers. Take down names, contact information, drivers’ license numbers, addresses, and insurance information.
  • Statements from all drivers.
  • Make and model of all vehicles, as well as license plate numbers.
  • Contact information for any witnesses.
  • Any injuries that were obvious at the scene of the accident, including those that did not require immediate medical attention.
  • A brief description of where the accident took place, including information about the road condition, debris, sidewalks, and more.

Avoid admitting fault when you provide or write down your statement. Car accidents happen in the blink of an eye, and your own perception of what happened might not be wholly accurate. Wait until all the details come together before moving on to assigning fault.

Non-Reportable Crashes

A non-reportable crash is a collision that you do not have to report to police. There are a few reasons why a crash might be non-reportable, including:

  • No one was injured or killed.
  • There was either no damage, or damage was so minor that everyone was able to drive away and no towing services were required.
  • It occurred on private roads or property.

Other Steps to Take After an Accident

Your first step after a car crash should be to check on everyone involved. Call 911 right away if it seems like anyone needs immediate medical attention. Motor vehicle accident injuries can be severe, so there is no time to waste.

Take pictures of the scene of the accident, too. Pictures that focus on physical damage to the vehicles can be helpful, as can photos that show weather and time-of-day conditions that might have been factors in the collision.

You should also contact your own insurance company. Be careful when speaking with them and do your best to state the facts clearly and neutrally. Any discrepancies in your account of the accident could cause you trouble in the future. You might still be shaken up soon after the crash, so take your time to collect yourself and your thoughts before calling. Your insurance policy should provide details about how long you have to contact them about an accident.

If you were injured, keep careful track of your medical treatment. This information is important during a personal injury claim, and it is much easier to already have it all put together than to go digging for it later on. Make a record of things like:

  • Emergency Room Visits
  • Doctor’s Office and Specialist Appointments
  • Treatment Plans
  • Medications
  • Medical Bills

You can also keep track of how your injuries impact your everyday life. If you are unable to work, move up and down the stairs in your house, cook, clean, or otherwise engage in your normal habits, make note of it.

How to Get a Copy of Your Accident Report

You, your lawyer, and insurance company can all request copies of your crash report. You can either fill out a form and mail it in or visit Pennsylvania’s Online Crash Report Requests website. State police advise waiting until at least 15 days have passed before submitting your request.

Keep in mind that there is a $22 fee for crash reports.

How an Accident Report Can Help a Personal Injury Claim

Getting your life back after a motor vehicle accident can be an uphill battle. Even the process for filing a personal injury claim can be challenging, which we are all too familiar with at Shrager, Sachs, & Blanco. Our car accident attorneys have helped guide car accident victims just like you through the process of securing necessary compensation for their injuries, financial damages, and pain and suffering.

You can contact us for a free case evaluation.

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