Criminal Law

Should You Talk to Police After an Auto Accident?

By John McCurley, Attorney
What to say—if anything—to law enforcement following being involved in a car collision.

Most drivers will at some point be involved in an accident. And when a collision occurs, police often show up at the scene to conduct an investigation. A natural starting point for police investigating an accident is to talk to the motorists. As one of the drivers, should you answer police questions? And if you agree to talk to police, how much should you say? Unfortunately, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer. But there are some factors to be mindful of when deciding how to handle your situation.

What’s Required?

The law doesn’t require drivers to answer all an officer’s questions. But on the other hand, drivers can’t be completely non-respondent to police inquiries at the scene of an accident. Generally, motorists must comply with an officer’s request to see license, registration, and insurance. (Motorists who refuse to hand over these documents might face arrest and criminal charges.) And all states have implied consent laws that generally require drivers suspected of driving under the influence (DUI) to submit to chemical testing (usually, of the blood or breath) to determine the amount of drugs or alcohol in their system. An officer also has the right to insist that you (and any passengers) exit the vehicle.

But when it comes to responding to an officer’s questions, it’s generally up to you. The wisdom of talking to police depends on the situation.

When to Talk to Police and When to Keep Your Mouth Shut?

First things first: Regardless of whether you decide to answer questions about the accident, you should always be polite to police. Being hostile or rude isn’t going to help your plight. If you don’t wish to talk, just inform the officer that you don’t want to answer any questions until you’ve had the chance to speak with an attorney.

In some circumstances, there’s no harm in talking to the cops. For instance, if the other driver is obviously at fault and you haven’t broken any laws, you may have nothing to lose. In real life, however, it’s rarely ever that clear—you may be legally responsible for the accident or have committed a traffic violation without even knowing it. Basically, you’re trying to avoid saying anything that incriminates you or tends to show you were at fault for the accident. But it’s easy to inadvertently say the wrong thing. So, if in doubt, it’s best to play it safe and politely decline to answer questions.

The silent path isn’t always well received. At the scene of a collision, police are trying to figure out what happened. So, while you might have a right to refuse to talk, not doing so may irritate some officers. But if it’s between ruffling some feathers and getting yourself into trouble, you might be well advised to stand your ground and keep quiet.

If you do opt to answer some questions, be mindful of what you say. Law enforcement will generate a report for the accident, and chances are anything you tell police will end in the report. Police reports often come into play in personal injury lawsuits and for prosecutors in deciding whether to file criminal charges. So your statements at the scene of an accident can come back to haunt you. Again, the things you want to steer away from are admitting fault and incriminating yourself.

Questions for an Attorney

  • Can I get in trouble if I lie to police at the scene of an accident?
  • Can passengers refuse to talk to the police?
  • Do I have to call the police if I’m involved in an accident?
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