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Traffic Collision Reports and Automobile Accidents – A Quick Breakdown

How Traffic Collision Reports Are Created

Traffic Collision Reports and Automobile Accidents - A Quick Breakdown

Traffic Collision Reports and Automobile Accidents – A Quick Breakdown

Filing a report with the police usually starts with a call to 911, or other local non-emergency number, to report an incident. The dispatcher assigns the call to local officers nearby who go to investigate. Once at the scene of the incident, the officers evaluate the situation by making observations and interviewing witnesses. The officers record their factual observations and witness statements in a police report.

People file police reports for many different reasons ranging from theft to automobile accidents. For car accidents, most departments use the Traffic Collision Report for Automobile Accidents.

How to Request a Copy of the Traffic Collision Report

You might ask, Am I Allowed to Have A Copy of The Police Report? Police records are generally exempt from public disclosure. Not just anyone can walk up to the police department and request any record they choose. First, the person requesting the public records must have a valid legal interest.

Involved in the Car Accident

If you are looking for a traffic collision report for a car accident you were involved in, then you satisfy the valid legal interest requirement. However, the department is allowed to block the reports disclosure if there your valid legal interest is outweighed by a countervailing governmental interest.

Criminal Investigations Can Cause Delays

If the person who hit you was arrested for driving under the influence (DUI), then there may be a criminal investigation. However, the government’s interest in keeping a criminal investigations secret doesn’t last forever. Eventually the report will need to be released to those with valid legal interests. But the decision is ultimately up to a judge, so consult with a lawyer if you have specific questions about a motor vehicle collision.

Request a Copy of the Face Page or Party Page

It can take time for an officer to complete the report. How long depends on the number of observations and detail of the report itself. More complex incidents with more witnesses and facts involved take longer. Or the report might be simple, but the officer came down with the flu and didn’t hit submit! Or there could be an ongoing criminal investigation that supersedes your right to the report. In any case, request a copy of the face page or party page, which contains the party information that you need to move the case forward.

Information Commonly Found in a Traffic Collision Report

The police officer isn’t necessarily required to take a thorough report, so be thankful if they do. If you are hit on the roadways and there is a traffic collision report, hopefully there’s a lot of good information in there. While the information in reports vary between officers, most counties observe similar practices to record the same kinds of information.

You might expect the following types of information in the traffic collision report:

  • A reference number for the report itself
  • The officer’s name and ID number who took the report as well as The names of other officers who were present
  • Date and time of the incident, including weather and roadways conditions.
  • Location of the incident, usually including an address or longitude and latitude estimates.
  • Names and contact information of all parties involved, including full a name, address, phone number, date of birth, driver license numbers, insurance information, make, model, year of vehicle. Social security numbers are generally not collected on traffic collision reports.
  • Diagrams or drawings of the scene as well as a reconstruction of the incident as determined by the officer. While the officer’s opinion is not necessarily binding in court, their observations can be introduced as evidence.
  • Names and contact info of witnesses as well as their statements

Most officers put the party at fault as Party 1 (P-1), but this isn’t always the case. Nevertheless, having the name, address and insurance information of the other parties involved helps move the administrative aspect of the case forward so that liability can be established. This may or may not speed up resolution of the claim in general.

Getting Ahold of A Copy of the Report

You were involved in a traffic collision and need the report because it has the insurance information of the other party. Or, the report has factual observations that the adjuster needs to see before they accept fault.

The officer at the scene should have handed you a card with the report number as well as their contact information. Get in touch with the police department traffic division on how to request a copy. If you weren’t given a reference number, you need to further investigate. Google is a great resource to start. Search for the police department that responded to the scene. Call the police department that responded and speak to traffic division (or other applicable department). Give them your name and details of the incident like date, time, place, and they will find the number for you.

Completing Necessary Forms and Paying Fees

You are required to complete forms, pay fees, and present a valid government id proving your identity. This can be done by mail or in person at the station. Many departments have online submission forms and online payment acceptance methods. Again, you will be given instructions by the specific department you need the report from.

Multiple Departments

Sometimes multiple police departments respond to the scene. This can happen at freeway on and off ramp. Call the city police department as well as the California Highway Patrol. It also happens at the border of cities and counties. Call both police departments.

LexisNexis is another resource

LexisNexis has a nationwide police report search tool. You can visit their website at LexisNexis.com to complete a request through their service. However, you will need to provide many details including report number, incident date, names of parties involved, which you might not yet have. Traffic Collision Reports and Automobile Accidents – A Quick Breakdown.


Alexander D. Napolin, Esq.