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Ask a cop: What do I do in a traffic accident?

By Officer Anonymous | Posted - Aug 26th, 2013 @ 10:43am



SALT LAKE CITY — Several people have asked me various questions about traffic accidents and the what and what-ifs surrounding them. I have been in a few myself, and even though I've investigated hundreds of them, when you are the one involved it is stressful. I'll cover some of the main issues surrounding accidents and what you should and should not do at an accident.

First rule is to not flip out on the other driver or drivers. Nothing ever got accomplished by you acting like Clark Griswold in every National Lampoon's movie. It is frustrating to have someone crash into you, but more than likely they did not mean to do it and did not want to get into an accident themselves. “Well, I'm late again to work, I guess I'll just rear end this Ford with the large man wearing flannel and see what happens.”

If it is a minor accident, (cars are not disabled, no one is injured) and you are in traffic, move your vehicles to a safer location. This could be to the side of the road, a parking lot or other location where other drivers will not also crash into you or hit you while you are outside of your car. This is especially true of the freeway. There is nothing more dangerous than a vehicle just sitting on a travel lane on the freeway and vehicles racing by on either side.


First rule is to not flip out on the other driver or drivers. Nothing ever got accomplished by you acting like Clark Griswold in every National Lampoon's movie.

Stay in your vehicles if you are on the freeway or in a travel lane and your vehicle cannot move. Wait for police to start controlling the traffic or other emergency personnel. The last thing anyone wants is a simple accident to turn into an auto-pedestrian accident or a fatal because you had to see if they scratched your rims. The only time you should not stay in your vehicle is if it is on train tracks.

Traffic accidents in cities are given a lower priority than other response calls on the dispatch screen. This obviously can change depending on circumstances, but you may be waiting a long time for an officer to respond to a simple accident. They may be tied up on many other calls happening at that time.

If it is a simple accident and clear-cut at who is at fault, you can exchange information and be on your way. This is especially true of accidents in parking lots. Parking lots are private property for the most part and all we will do is help the exchanging of information. No citation will be issued, unless the other person is intoxicated or committing some type of other crime not associated with traffic offenses.

When you are calling in an accident, it is preferable if you call into the non-emergency dispatch number. If you are in the Salt Lake Valley, the numbers are:

801-799-3000 for SLCPD

801-840-4000 for VECC agencies

801-743-7000 for all Unified Police Department areas

801-887-3800 for Utah Highway Patrol

If you are unsure of the jurisdiction, call one of those numbers and they should be able to determine the proper dispatching agency and hopefully transfer you.

You can call 911 if there is an emergency, someone is injured or it's otherwise a dangerous situation that requires an immediate response. That emergency is not that you have a test to go to, you are late for a big business meeting or that you are just more important than anyone else. Trust me, everyone going anywhere is in more of a hurry than you and has a better reason.

Once the officer arrives, he and possibly other officers will attempt to make the area as safe as they are able, depending on conditions. They will ask if anyone is hurt. They will then start getting information from both drivers. This will include a driver's license, vehicle registration and insurance information. They will also get a story of the events that unfolded from the drivers, witnesses and occupants of the vehicles, preferably at separate times.

The officer should take the information from all parties, damage to the vehicles and the area itself and make a determination about who is at fault. A citation can be written to the at-fault party, however sometimes they are not. In certain situations, both parties can be at fault, or with a lack of witnesses, passengers or other information, there is no way to determine the at-fault party.

If there is an injury, serious injury or death, then you may be at the accident scene for quite a while or at least your vehicle will be. Officers can make arrangements for tow companies to tow your vehicle or you can make a call or ask that a certain tow company be called. Just make sure they can respond in a timely manner, especially if your vehicle is blocking traffic. We can't wait all day for Mater's Tow Service to poke along from two counties away because you go fishing with him.

At the end of a traffic accident investigation, you will be left with an information exchange form with the other driver's information, the case number for the accident, information from the officer (name, department, badge number, etc.) and possibly a citation. Then you can either drive away or hopefully a friend or cab is picking you up and we are off to the next call.

This is a general overview of traffic accidents, and I'm sure there are dozens of “what-ifs” and specific information that I have not covered. If you have a question about accidents, let me know at askacop@ksl.com. If I don't know the answer, I know a lot of guys who do.

Just remember that the vast majority of accidents can be avoided by just paying attention. I have avoided many accidents by being aware of my vehicle and my surroundings. You can see when a vehicle is starting to change lanes into the same lane that you are turning into or the vehicle that is going to turn left in front of you just because the light starts to turn yellow.

So get off your cellphones, stop eating cereal in the car, makeup is for the bathroom, reading a paper on the steering wheel is just silly, and start doing the one and only thing you should be doing in a vehicle, driving the vehicle.

This article is for entertainment purposes only and should not be taken as legal advice. I do not represent any specific agency or government. Please send questions to askacop@ksl.com.

Officer Anonymous

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