Abramson Smith Waldsmith LLP

What do you do when police arrive on the scene of a car accident?

When you have been involved in an accident on California's highways and city streets, the immediate response can be panic. Accidents are frightening and your emotions may be running high, whether you are upset over a near-miss fatality, angry over damage to your vehicle, or dealing with the pain and fear associated with injury. Regardless of your emotional state, however, you should be prepared to deal with police once they arrive on the scene of the accident.

Your first step after an accident would usually be, if you are physically capable, to call 911 if bystanders have not already done so. Some drivers are tempted to flee the scene of an accident, but that would transition the accident into a hit-and-run with legal consequences. If more than one person is involved in the accident, those who are physically capable generally exchange insurance information. If you are capable of remaining clear-headed, the information you provide once the police arrive can be instrumental in completing the accident report.

California police are held to the standards of a collision investigation manual, such as the one used by the California Highway Patrol. The responding officer's first responsibility is to assist any injured persons on the scene to the best of his or her ability, when assisting does not cause further injury or harm, or to otherwise assist emergency medical personnel. Once any potential injuries or life-threatening situations have been addressed, the police take statements from parties involved in the collision. You should ideally be prepared to give a detailed account of the situation leading up to the collision, focusing on presenting the information as factually as possible. The police accident report may be used in insurance claims or any accident investigations, and an accurate testimony is the first step in a proper report.

This information is for reference purposes only, and does not constitute actionable legal advice.

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