How to Read a Car Accident Report
A car accident report is a valuable document that contains facts and investigative results about your car accident. Many states use a uniform version for their state officers or highway patrol to use when completing an accident investigation. The officer uses the report to document their findings and to reach conclusions in most cases as to the responsible parties.
Although the finding of fault in the police or car accident report is not admissible at trial, the officer may refer to the report when expressing his observations. If a police officer issues a citation that allocates blame, that citation is not admissible. While police officers and highway patrol officers are trained accident investigators and many have years of experience, they are only permitted to testify regarding their first-hand observations and not offer opinions as to liability.
Insurance adjusters will generally accept the car accident report as sufficient evidence to establish liability, responsibility. They will also use the document to determine the location of property damage.
An accurate reading of a car accident report will inform you if liability is an issue, what the parties and witnesses stated to the police officer at the scene, and other observable facts. Be careful though, police reports are not always 100% accurate. While officers may do their best to get the facts right, we have looked at many accident reports with glaring mistakes. So do not always take the report as the gospel. A good personal injury lawyer Atlanta residents trust should conduct his own investigation. You can obtain a copy of the car accident report directly from the investigating officer’s department or online at buycrash.com within 3 to 6 days after the accident.
A Georgia car accident report has 21 categories offering various information about the vehicles, parties, weather, road conditions, direction of travel for the vehicles, property damage, point of impact, and injuries. Of course, not all of the categories will apply to your individual case. But the following are the more common ones that you should examine:
Alcohol and drug tests
If a driver tested positive for drugs or had a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level of 0.08%, he is presumed to be under the influence. This is also true if the driver refused to consent to testing. This section also indicates if the driver had a breath, blood or urine test. A positive test can be considered negligence per se and may be used to pursue punitive damages.
You will want to know the name of the defendant driver’s insurance carrier so written notice of your claim can be promptly made. Your lawyer will send a letter under O.C.G.A. § 33-3-28.
If a driver’s vision was blocked or obscured by the weather, a parked vehicle, or vegetation, this could lead to further investigation as to whether another party contributed to the accident, or that the defendant failed to take reasonable precautions.
This section shows what movement or lack of movement was made by one of the vehicles at the moment of impact, and can suggest liability by one of the parties.
Operator Contributing Factors
There are 42 listed contributing factors that could have caused the accident. They include exceeding the speed limit, distraction, impairment, road surface defects, racing, mechanical issues, and others. If the driver was impaired, a bar or other establishment may be liable under Georgia’s dram shop laws. O.C.G.A. § 51-1-40.
Was a traffic control device, a stop sign, or other signage an issue in the accident?
This shows how the traffic was moving in the area where the accident occurred. There could be a two-way with or without separation by barriers or one-way traffic where a party drifted into the other lane. In an accident where a defective barrier allowed a car to cross into the opposite lane of traffic should be investigated for municipal liability.
Number of Occupants & Posted Speed
These two categories are obvious: how many people were in the car and what was the speed limit.
Roadway Contributing Defects
If the officer felt the road conditions contributed the accident, he might have indicated standing water, sand, slick surface, or significant holes. The road might have sharp turns, was graded, had a hill crest that suddenly peaked at a crosswalk, or was simply straight. This can suggest that a driver’s vision was obscured or he failed to take proper precautions.
Damage to Vehicles
While this is not fair, often, the severity of an injury is presumed to be based on the property damage sustained. The reason this is not fair, is because a car may be crumpled, and the driver only suffers minor injuries. Similarly, a car may have less damage, but the driver suffers serious injuries. This category offers 4 different choices and is based on the subjective judgment by the officer. The 4 levels of damage that the officer can select from are: 1) no damage; 2) minor damage; 3) functional damage; or 4) disabling damage.
This section indicates is there was construction or any road maintenance at the crash site.
Narrative and Diagram
There are several other categories in the report. The ones we have reviewed above are just some of the boxes that the officer will fill in when he prepares his report. One of the most important parts of the report is found on page two of the accident report where the officer will write a narrative, draw a diagram, and provide witness information. If a driver or passenger was transported to a hospital, the narrative will include that information. The narrative should include what the officer observed and what he did. The diagram will have a picture—not always an accurate picture—that shows what the officer thinks happened.
One of the most important things you need when you are involved in an accident is to take out your phone and text yourself the witnesses’ names and numbers. Witnesses often disappear and so while there is a section for witnesses in the report, the officer may not have their information.