First and foremost- yes, you need to call the police.
No matter what.
Even if it is just a little fender bender and no one is hurt.
Even if you want to be nice.
Even if there is no damage.
Even if you’re in a hurry and want to get out of there.
Even if you aren’t planning on filing an insurance claim.
You just pulled into the parking lot at the store. You’re about to get out of the car, when another car pulls into the vacant spot next to you- but waaaay too close. So close, that they actually scrape your car. They have no choice but to back out scraping your car again- just to move… But, you being the nice person- calmly just ask if they have insurance (they do)- and you just peacefully exchange information, since no one was hurt. The person promises to have his insurance agent call yours right away.
Or so you think.
You, of course, call your insurance agent within the hour. Except that shouldn’t be a claim against YOUR insurance (because it wasn’t YOUR fault the other person couldn’t drive). But the other driver’s insurance agent doesn’t call. By the end of the day, the agent doesn’t call.
So your agent calls his the next day and by then, the story has changed. By then– it’s a “he said- she said” story about how you were both moving.
You try to call the police to see if they’ll come and take a statement after the fact, but they say there isn’t much they can do. You were hoping that by calling them after the fact – that maybe they can help you get video footage of the parking lot or something to prove your case. But after the fact- there isn’t much the police can do. They may have been able to assist you if you had called immediately.
You’re driving along and a woman hits you from behind at the bottom of an off ramp. Not too hard, just a little tap. You get out of the car and she is hysterical. You see that she has two young children strapped into a car seat and a booster seat in the back of her car. You look at both cars and there is a tiny scrape on your bumper (that quite honestly- could have been there before the accident occurred). Her car has a dent, but hey- it was her fault to begin with. She is super apologetic, but in a hurry because she needs to get her kids to school. You exchange information (names and phone numbers and insurance information… only she doesn’t have any insurance) because that seems like the logical thing to do, but since no one is hurt and your car really isn’t damaged you have no intention of making this a big deal because really, you’re not a jerk. You both leave.
Next week, you get a call from your insurance agent that she has made a claim against your insurance that you stopped short, causing you to hit her. She wants your insurance company to pay for the damages to her car and she thinks that she needs some medical attention for her “injuries”.
If this person had called the police right away, even if the police couldn’t determine fault, there would have been a police report on file to reference on the claim about what was stated by each party at the time of the accident- when both parties were face to face and less likely to lie about what had happened. Usually at that point, the party that is at fault is still apologetic.
Why call the Police
Police are helpful because police officers receive training in auto accident assessment. They write up an official report that includes the date, time, and location of the accident as well as personal information and statements from the drivers, passengers, and witnesses. Witness statements can be very helpful if the claim is a large one and the details between the drivers are disputed.
Most important in a claim situation when it comes to insurance is the officer’s written narrative is the details and causes of the accidents and the descriptions of the at-fault driver’s actions that caused the accident. At-fault accidents can stay on your “insurance record” for 3-5 years, influencing the premiums you pay for your insurance.
If you cannot get a police officer to come to the scene of your accident- which may be the case if there is a high number of accidents or it is a non-injury accident. Or- if you simply do not wish to call the police, but still want to file a police report- you can go to your local police station and file an unofficial police report. An unofficial police report is better than no police report.
Filing a police report (official or unofficial) does not have any bearing on an insurance claim. You can still have a conversation with your trusted advisor on whether it is advantageous for you to file the claim through your insurance company, based on how much damage is done to the vehicle and if other autos were damaged, and who’s fault the accident was.
Minor fender benders that happened 5-10 years ago cost $500-$800 to repair. Now, with safety devices, rear-view cameras, and different material in bumpers, those same fender benders cost $4000 and up. It is totally worth calling the police if your bumper is hit because that repair can cost way more than you thought. Without a police report showing the other driver being at fault, that claim could be on you.
Always call the police in any accident to protect yourself. It is worth the inconvenience.