Criminal Law

Talking (or Not) To Police After An Accident

There are millions of traffic accidents each year, and the odds are that you'll be involved in one someday. Usually, someone calls the police and an officer shows up at the accident scene. What do you say when the officer gets there? Do you say anything at all? It depends on your personal situation and the facts of the case.

General Things

There are all kinds of car accidents. Some have little or no damages, like when one car taps the rear of another car at a stop light, or a low-speed collision causes some dents and paint damage. Others involve major damage to all of the cars involved, sometimes with serious injuries or deaths of drivers, passengers, or even pedestrians.

Regardless of the type of accident, one thing in common is that the police are almost always called to the scene, either by someone involved in the accident or by a witness. It may be because someone's hurt, or may be because practically everyone knows that a police report is usually important when it comes to insurance and figuring out who's going to pay for the damages.

When the police show up, a short investigation into the incident begins almost immediately. The officer needs to figure out, if possible, who caused the accident. Usually, he'll issue a ticket or traffic citation to the driver at fault. What's your role in the investigation?

Really, it's up to you. You can talk to the officer and try to explain what happened. Most drivers freely talk to the police and answer their questions. Usually, there's nothing wrong with that. However, whether you think you caused the accident or not, be careful. Without even knowing it, you may make the officer think that you caused the accident, in whole or in part. Choose your words carefully, and stick to the facts.

Of course, you don't have to say anything at all. In most states, all you need to do is give the officer your driver's license, vehicle registration, and proof of insurance. If you choose to say nothing, the officer may make a determination on his own and give you a ticket. But, you can always go to court and tell your side of the story there.

Learn From Tiger

In many car accident cases, especially when there are no injuries and light to moderate damages to cars and other property, it's usually a good idea to talk to the police and give your side of the story. You may be able to convince the officer that you didn't cause the accident - or that the other driver did - and avoid having to pay a ticket.

Your personal situation and the facts of the incident may change that general rule, though. Police reports are public records, meaning anyone can see and read them once they're filed. If there's something embarrassing connected to your accident and you don't want anyone else to know about it, then you may not want to talk to police. Likewise, it may be a good idea to stay quiet if you could be charged with a crime other than the accident itself.

For example, golf great Tiger Woods was involved in a single-car accident when he crashed his vehicle while leaving the driveway of his home. Apparently, he was injured in the accident and was taken to the hospital. Despite reports that he had agreed to talk to the police during their investigation of the wreck, he never did so. Instead, he gave only the information required by law: His driver's license, vehicle registration, and insurance information.

Why the silence? There's speculation that the accident was connected to a violent domestic dispute between Tiger and his wife, which, again it's speculated, arose from his extra marital affairs with other women. There were also early reports that speculated that Tiger was under the influence of prescription medication at the time of the accident.

Did he choose wisely? Even the experts aren't sure. If either the domestic violence or medication stories are true, though, it's not hard to see why Tiger refused to explain himself to the police.

What Will You Do?

If the time comes and you're in an accident, what will say to the police? You have two options, really: Explain yourself, or say nothing. The choice is yours. If there's something you want to keep quiet about the accident, or if there's a chance that the accident is only the tip of an iceberg of legal trouble, don't be afraid to exercise your right to say nothing. But, be prepared for the possibility of a heightened investigation of the accident, as well as a traffic citation right then and there.

If the accident is your average, run-of-the mill fender bender, it's probably safe to explain yourself to the police. Just be careful not to implicate yourself. Stick to the facts, don't apologize or say "I did it," be calm and polite, and let the officer make a decision. If you don't agree with her, you can always challenge the ticket in court.

Questions For Your Attorney

  • I was cited for a minor fender bender. Is it really worth it for me to take off work and go to court to challenge a $100 ticket? If I lose, will I have to pay more than fine stated in the ticket?
  • I was in a minor accident and the other driver talked me out of calling the police. Instead we just exchanged personal and insurance information. Now I can't get reach him, and the insurance company says it has no record of him. What should I do?
  • Can the police order the hospital to take a blood sample from the driver of car who was involved in accident?

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