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Call the Cops

About two years ago, someone rear-ended my wife. There she was, sitting at a stop light waiting for it to turn green when some guy on a cell phone hit her because he didn’t know red meant stop and that my wife’s car was not a ghost he could just drive right through.  Fortunately, no one was injured. What do you suppose she did?

If you answered, “Called her husband, who is a lawyer and handles car accident cases all day, every day,” you would be wrong. She did what a lot of people do: exchanged insurance information and left the scene.  They didn’t call the police, and no police report was ever made.

When involved in an accident, a lot of people would prefer not to call the police. The at-fault party most commonly does not want to involve the police because they are afraid of insurance points and getting a citation. The guy who got hit most commonly does not want to involve the police because they don’t want to wait around for them, or they are just trying to be nice and believe they will handle the damages on their own with the at-fault driver. Not wanting to call the police is understandable, because, like with lawyers, most people would rather not have to get involved in dealing with them.

That begs that question: if you are in an accident, are you required to call the police? The answer, as usual, is very lawyerly. It depends.

Under North Carolina General Statute 20-166.1, “the driver of a vehicle involved in a reportable accident must immediately, by the quickest means of communication, notify the appropriate law enforcement agency of the accident.”  The police officer must then investigate the reportable accident and write a report within 24 hours. This report is subsequently communicated to the DMV.

This does not mean that you are required to call the police after every accident. You only have to call after a “reportable” accident. This term is defined in N.C. General Statute 20-4.01(33b) as “a crash involving a motor vehicle that results in one or more of the following: a) Death or injury of a human being, b) total property damage of one thousand dollars ($1,000) or more, or property damage of any amount to a vehicle seized [for offenses involving impaired driving while licensed revoked or without license and insurance].” So, unless there is injury and/or more than $1,000 damage to the vehicles involved, the police are not required to be called and a report does not have to be made.

Even when an accident is reportable, some individuals still choose not to report it. This is not only the wrong thing to do because it is illegal, but if a legal action should become necessary down the road the police report often plays a vital role in the proceedings. A police report contains the names and information of both parties, the results of the officer’s investigations, a diagram of how the accident occurred, injury information, property damage information, findings of fault, and estimates of speed, among other value information.  Thus, if you have been involved in an accident that is more than just a very minor fender bender or there have been injuries, it’s best to call the police.

Disclaimer: The views of the author are his own. Nothing in this post should be construed as to convey any specific legal advice to any specific individual.

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