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Traffic Collision Tips


So, you’ve just become one of the many people involved in a Traffic Collision today. What should you do? Although you feel confusion and shock, it is important to remain as calm as possible. Try to remember, the other parties involved are likely to be just as upset.

The first, most critical task is to determine if there are injuries. If you and your passengers are uninjured, check on the occupants of the other involved vehicles if it is safe to do so. If there are injuries, DO NOT MOVE the victims or vehicles unless necessary for their continued safety. Call “911” as soon as possible, advise the dispatcher of your exact location and direction of travel if possible. If you know an exact address, please tell the dispatcher.

Don’t assume other drivers on the roadway see you. If there are no injuries and there is any way possible to safely move the vehicles out of the roadway, please do so immediately. If the vehicles are not moveable activate the emergency flashers if possible, and move yourself and other occupants of the vehicles to a place of safety. It is extremely important to move vehicle and passengers out of the roadway as soon as possible. Numerous accidents could be prevented each year if these simple steps were followed. Other motorists either collide with the vehicle already involved in the collision or they are distracted by the collision and cause another separate “lookie-loo” collision.

At this point you have options.In the State of California, a police report is not required unless the collision results in injury or death. Remember, if you choose to file a police report, the information is reported to the State Department of Motor Vehicles. This accident will be reflected on each driver’s DMV history regardless of fault. This information may affect your insurance premium rates. Also, if a report is taken and the officer is able to determine fault, the driver at fault will most likely receive a traffic citation for the moving violation that caused the collision. The citation will either be issued at the scene or mailed to the driver upon completion of the investigation.

A police report documents facts, physical evidence, and injuries. Based on these factors, law enforcement personnel are often able to determine who is at fault for causing the collision. It is very helpful to have an independent witness to the collision. It is important to ask if anyone saw what happened immediately following a collision. Don’t forget to pass the information along to law enforcement personnel. Remember to be as accurate and detailed as possible when providing your statement to the responding officer. It is advisable to get a police report if one of the involved parties is uninsured and/or unlicensed, or if the other party refuses to exchange information. If the other party leaves the scene without providing the necessary information or after advising them that the police are coming; the collision becomes a hit and run, which is a crime. If this happens, try to get the license plate number of the other vehicle, as well as a description of the vehicle and driver. Turn this information over to the responding officer. Do not attempt to follow or detain the other driver. Your safety is more important.

If a Police Report is not desired, the involved parties may need to contact their respective insurance companies with information about the accident. If, however, the damage is extremely minor, the drivers may agree to some type of payment arrangements; thereby taking care of repairs “out of pocket” without involving a claim to either insurance company. If damage is over $750 and/or there are injuries, an SR-1 form must be completed and filed with the Department of Motor Vehicles within 10 days. These forms are usually available at insurance offices, Automobile Club offices, DMV and local law enforcement agencies.

Regardless if a report is to be taken, drivers are encouraged to and are required by law to exchange the following information after being involved in a collision.

  1. Full Name
  2. Address
  3. Residence and business phone numbers
  4. Drivers license number and State of Issue
  5. Insurance company and policy number
  6. Make, Model, and License plate number of your vehicle
  7. Witness or Passenger names, and phone numbers

It is also helpful to jot down the location and description of vehicle damage and to locate any possible witnesses to the incident. Snap a couple of pictures of the roadway and vehicles if you have a camera handy. Information exchange is a great thing to do while waiting for the police to arrive.

If a collision occurs on private property (some residential streets, driveways, business/shopping center parking lots) a police report will not be taken unless there are visible injuries. This becomes a civil matter, between the involved parties and the respective insurance companies.

Most collisions are a direct result of inattention on the part of the driver(s) and/or the driver(s) inability to judge stopping distance in an emergency situation. Most drivers underestimate speed and safe following distances. It takes the average driver approximately 1.5 seconds to perceive and react to a situation. This means that a vehicle moving at approximately 45 mph will have traveled an additional 50 feet before the driver even begins to apply his brakes, and another 120 feet to come to a stop. This distance increases significantly if the roadway is wet or slippery. These perception and reaction times also increase if the driver is distracted (cellular phone, talking to passengers, checking behavior of children, applying make-up, reading a map, switching radio stations, or looking at an accident).

Try to anticipate the unexpected; slow down and increase the distance between yourself and the other vehicles. Remember to be alert and concentrate on driving as you would other complex tasks. A vehicle can be a potentially deadly weapon in the hands of an inexperienced, inattentive, impaired or impatient driver. Vehicles are possessions and can be replaced, a human life cannot.

Written by: Civilian Traffic Investigator Susan Meyer