If you drive regularly, statistically you’re bound to eventually be involved in a collision—regardless of whether or not you’re at fault. Learning how to document that accident appropriately is vital if you want to have the case investigated properly.
Why Documentation Is Important
In minor accidents, you may be tempted to accept a small cash offer and part ways, or even pretend like nothing happened. However, no matter how minor the damage is, or who’s at fault, documentation of the crash of cars is important for the following reasons:
Properly surveying for damage
If you believe there was no damage to your vehicle and drive off, you may be surprised to see a point of damage later that you overlooked. Taking photos and videos at the scene of the accident forces you to inspect your vehicles more thoroughly, and better understand what happened. For example, you may notice fender damage that you would have glossed over otherwise.
Recording damage for insurance companies
You may need to definitively prove that the damage to your vehicle occurred because of the accident and didn’t happen afterward in a separate incident. Documenting the accident helps you prove to insurance companies that the damage is both real and attributable to the collision.
Preparing for or preventing legal action
If you take legal action against another driver responsible for the collision, you’ll need to prove what happened in a court of law. Determining fault isn’t always an open-and-shut case, and if there’s any doubt as to what happened, it could result in a mutual fault scenario. Even worse, if you don’t have provable documentation on what happened, the other driver could make fraudulent claims that indicate you’re the one at fault. Unfortunately, documentation isn’t a guarantee that the truth will be proven, but every piece of documentation you gather will add to your likelihood of success.
Enabling a proper investigation
Documentation also allows other authorities to conduct a more thorough investigation. For example, if you’re the victim of a hit and run, adequately photographing and reporting the scene of the crime can help investigators track down the person responsible. Providing more pieces of information can help insurance companies reliably determine who was at fault in the accident.
How to Document a Car Accident
Now for the important part: how to document a car accident.
A dash cam
Dash cams are becoming increasingly popular because they’re getting cheaper, easier to use, and more convenient for drivers. Most dashcams work by constantly recording, but overwriting old material progressively, so at any point you can access the last hour or more of footage. Dash cam footage is ideal because it can hypothetically record everything that happened up to the point of collision, potentially clearing you of fault. The problem is you have to have a dash cam installed before the collision happens. You can usually find one for around $50, which is worth the investment if you drive on a regular basis.
Cellphone photos and video
You should also use your cellphone camera to take photos, or even video, of the scene of collision. Take photographic evidence of where and how your vehicle was damaged, 360 degrees around the vehicle, as well as the vehicle of all other parties involved in the collision. This can serve as proof of damage for insurance companies, and help explain how the accident happened, so there’s no question as to which driver is at fault.
A police report
Police reports are one of the most powerful pieces of evidence you can use in a trial, as the officer recording information is usually both thorough and unbiased. Call the police immediately after an accident, regardless of how minor it is, so you can get that report on record. The police officer will likely ask you for tons of information, including personal information like your name and addresses, and your testimony on how the accident happened. They’ll also record their own observed details, and give you a chance to sign off on those details to verify their accuracy in the moment.
It may also be a good idea to contact the people around you after the accident occurs, especially if it’s a hit and run accident. Eyewitnesses may have caught details that neither you nor the other driver were able to see, such as a license plate number, or a last-minute swerve. They can be valuable in piecing together the entire story of the collision.
Driver and passenger information
Shortly after the accident, you’ll want to speak with the other driver, and take note of anybody in the vehicle with them. While talking to the other driver, be polite, but don’t admit fault or make accusations. Exchanging too many details could interfere with your memory, or give them an advantage in the following investigation. You’ll want to exchange your names, your vehicles’ make, model, year, color, and VIN, and your insurance information. That insurance information should include your agent’s name and phone number and your policy number. Your driver’s license and registration do not need to be photographed. You may also want to get names and contact information of passengers—but at a minimum, note how many passengers there were.
If you’re looking for a reliable, additional piece of information, you may want to look for traffic cameras in the area. Traffic cameras are commonly installed at busy intersections, and there may be cameras in a private parking lot near where the accident occurred. Ask local business owners to share the footage with you if this is the case.
Related: How to Choose the Best Car Insurance
Even though it’s important to document a car accident as thoroughly as possible, it’s also important to get to safety as soon as possible. It’s not worth getting a good photo of your wrecked vehicle if it means making yourself vulnerable to a pedestrian crash. After an accident, your first goal should be to ensure your safety and the safety of your passengers, so get to the side of the road as quickly and safely as possible. After that, you can begin the work of documenting the crash of cars.