Drivers beware: What it means for you now that the Philadelphia police will no longer respond to minor traffic accidents
By Dean I Weitzman, Esq. on May 3rd, 2010
For years, if you were involved in a traffic accident in Philadelphia – even a minor fender-bender – you could call the police and they would respond with an officer who would produce an accident report.
That was a good thing. It provided details of the accident, an officer’s hand-drawn illustration of the accident scene, full names of the drivers involved and information about any witnesses and other relevant details.
If you were injured, this was vital information for any future legal case and for any insurance claims.
Well, starting today, if a vehicle accident has caused no initial injuries, the Philadelphia police will no longer send an officer to respond and complete a written accident report.
The new policy was announced last week in a story in The Philadelphia Inquirer, which said the action is being taken to free officers up for other police activities, such as responding to more serious incidents and crimes.
Under the new policy, if an accident causes no injuries, if the drivers are willing to exchange their insurance and personal information and if the vehicles can be driven away under their own power, the involved motorists will be advised to drive to the nearest police station to file their own reports.
On its face, it may not sound like a bad idea. Having the police deal with more serious issues, such as violent crimes, sounds like a noble goal.
But when you are involved in a traffic accident in the City of Philadelphia beginning today, the onus on your legal standing in any “minor” accident now is on you.
People sometimes say they are not hurt after being involved in a minor traffic accident. The problem is that injuries often don’t flare up immediately. People often are pumped by adrenaline after an accident and that masks any minor or serious injuries they may have suffered.
So if you are actually injured, and don’t realize it or feel its effects at that moment, by not having a police officer respond for a traffic accident report, you may be harming your standing later in the event of future medical bills and other damages.
Now what to do?
It means you have to really be observant and smart and careful to protect your own legal rights after a minor accident in Philadelphia nowadays.
First, you should carry a pad of paper and a pen or pencil so you can collect all relevant information from the other drivers in the event of a crash. You can also download, print and carry an “auto accident checklist” from MyPhillyLawyer.com that can help you collect all of the accident details you will need to preserve. You’ll want to get the names, addresses, phone numbers, birth dates, insurance information (policy numbers, phone numbers, agents names) and personal details of the other drivers, as well as vehicle information, license numbers and vehicle serial numbers (VIN numbers).
You’ll want to make an illustration of the accident scene and how the accident occurred, including the directions the vehicles were traveling in before the impact.
Another good idea is to take several clear, detailed cell phone photos of the accident scene, the vehicles and other related features if no police officers are responding, so you can better protect yourself later.
Without a police officer on the scene at a “minor” vehicle accident, you now will need to be your own investigator.
If you leave the scene of the accident without getting all the required information about the other drivers, vehicles and witnesses, you may not be able to ever make a claim. Without the relevant information, you will lack the ability to pursue any future case in the event you feel the effects of any injuries later.
What you must remember is that if you feel any discomfort at all, any kind of twinge or uncertainty after a so-called “minor” accident, you should call the police and ask them to respond for a full police report of the incident.
A police report provides critical information about who is at fault in a crash. You want to be sure the scene is well-documented if you are injured.
If an officer isn’t required to respond, the more information you gather yourself, the better off you will be. If any future legal case comes down to a situation where you say one thing happened and the other driver says it happened differently, your carefully collected details could help you win your case. Without this information, then you may be at the short end of the stick.
Yes, critics sometimes say that it often took police officers a long time to respond to minor accidents anyways in the past, so the new policy isn’t a drastic change, they argue.
But if that “minor” accident involves you or your loved ones, we believe this is a significant change.
Be smart. Get every shred of information you will need. Be prepared and be observant.
And let’s be careful out there.