I often get asked, “What can I do (or cannot) following a traffic collision? Am I allowed to move my vehicle? Who should I call? What personal information does the law require me to share?”
Here are answers from the California Highway Patrol’s perspective.
Let’s start with what you should do if you’re involved in a minor (non-injury) property damage collision. Let’s say you are traveling on northbound Highway 41 near Shaw Avenue during the evening commute. Traffic is heavy, and it has been stop-and-go for miles. Suddenly you’re involved in a minor collision. Your first thought should be, “Clear the roadway.” Move your vehicle to the right shoulder or, better yet, off the freeway to a safe location that will not impede traffic or otherwise jeopardize the safety of other motorists. Moving your vehicle out of the lane is not only the safest thing for you and the rest of the motoring public, but it’s also the law. Failing to clear the roadway immediately following a collision can cause several problems. First, it can result in you being involved in a secondary traffic collision. Second, it creates traffic congestion, and it can delay first-responders and tow trucks.
I find that people are reluctant to move their vehicle before an officer arrives on scene. They believe moving their car might hinder the officer’s investigation as to who was at fault. Officers rely on physical evidence, statements by all parties involved in the traffic collision and witness statements to determine what caused the collision.
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However, safety is the primary concern and moving out of harm’s way should be your first priority. Once you are in a safe location, you may begin to exchange required information with the other parties involved. Information which must be exchanged includes driver license numbers, vehicle registration, proof of insurance and telephone numbers. As soon as the required information has been exchanged, all involved parties are free to leave the scene. If you are in a safe location, it might be a good idea to take pictures from multiple angles with a cell phone.
The CHP is always willing to assist you if you are involved in a collision. Whether or not the collision involves an injury, the CHP can and will take a collision report. Additionally, if your vehicle sustained moderate to major collision damage which prevents you from being able to safely move it out of the traffic lanes, CHP officers can utilize their patrol vehicle’s push bumpers to help clear the roadway. They will also remain on scene to provide traffic control until a tow truck arrives.
Now, let’s talk about what information you should have ready for an officer who is responding to investigate your traffic collision. Have your driver’s license, vehicle registration and proof of insurance ready to show the officer. I suggest keeping your vehicle registration and insurance information together in a plastic bag inside your glove box. Be prepared to answer several questions about how the traffic collision occurred. Stay calm and give concise answers. Remember, officers are there to provide assistance and were not there and didn’t see the traffic collision. Questions like, “Which lane were you in?” and “How fast were you traveling before the traffic collision?” are significant. Answering these questions to the best of your ability will help establish an accurate statement for your report.
CHP officers understand that being involved in a traffic collision can be stressful and traumatic. Part of our job is to assist you safely and efficiently. Stay safe on the roadways and have a great new year!