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Trend watch: The cops aren't coming after your car accident



Car with dented fenderAuto insurance companies always tell you to call the police if you've been in a wreck, but what do you do if the cops don't come?

Las Vegas has become the latest city to decide that police won't respond if you're in a fender bender. And that's not just if your car kisses bumpers with another one in a parking lot. If you're in an accident with major damage, but no one is injured, the cops may not arrive.

That concerns Michael Geeser, president of the Nevada Insurance Council, a non-profit organization that represents the property and casualty insurance industry. With the new law, motorists now have to take down details about the wreck, as well as the other driver -- something they're not experienced in doing. If the wreck occurred on a roadway, there's a chance they might step into traffic and get injured as they're gathering information.

And tempers may flare. "There's a ton of road rage out there. It's not necessarily the most polite people that have to exchange information. There's anger, outrage, words flying. Now you're putting people in the untenable position of having to gather information in such a scenario," Geeser says. "People can intimidate the other party and coerce them to write or say something they didn't mean to."

Emerging trend: Cities opting out of cops at accident scenes

Las Vegas isn't the only major city that has adopted such a policy. You'll encounter similar policies in places such as San Francisco, Salt Lake City and Philadelphia.

Even if police don't respond in Las Vegas, you're still expected to file an accident report within 10 days of the wreck. In Las Vegas, you're legally required to report any accident with at least $750 in property damage.

Steve Rutzebeck, director of Geico's special investigations unit, says most states require those involved in an accident to exchange information such as their name, address and insurance company information. The requirement to file a police report varies from state to state.

You also should file a report with your auto insurer, and these days many companies allow you to use an app on your smartphone so you can start the claims process while you're still at the scene.

Even if you don't have a police report, that won't derail your auto insurance claim. "While a police report can be very helpful, the claim will be handled on its merits with or without a police report," Rutzebeck says.

If you're in a car wreck, USAA spokeswoman Rebecca Hirsch recommends "don't apologize after an accident -- even if you think you're at fault. An apology could be used against you later, regardless of whether you were entirely to blame."

She also recommends:

  • Move your vehicle out of the road if it's drivable.
  • Record details such as the name of the other driver, his driver's license number and license plate, number of passengers in the vehicle, and the year, make and model of his car.
  • Record his insurance information, such as the company's name and agent's name, phone number and policy number.
  • Don't share details of your policy, such as your coverage limits.
  • Ask for the contact information of all witnesses.
  • Take photos or video of the accident scene and vehicles involved.

Geeser, who is a regional director of government affairs for CSAA Insurance Group, an AAA insurer, also recommends taking photos of such things as the street or intersection where the wreck occurred, street signs and the traffic flow. "It helps us tell the story," he says.

Will violators be ticketed if the cops don't show? Probably not

Without a police presence at the accident scene, it creates more work for an auto insurance company to investigate your claim, and that could mean your claim could take longer to process, Geeser says.

Even if no one is injured in the wreck, if you suspect the other driver is under the influence of alcohol or drugs, you should call police, he says.

In some areas of the country, auto insurance fraud is rampant. Having good documentation helps protect you against fraudulent claims by the other driver, Rutzebeck says. "Photos from a cellphone are extremely important," he says.

Rutzebeck also recommends shooting photos of the vehicles from several angles, and taking photos of the passengers in the other car.

"Fraudulent activity can occur whether or not the police respond. Sometimes those committing fraud want the police to be on the scene to add credibility to their future fraudulent claims," Rutzebeck says.

On the other hand, staged accidents could be easier to pull off if police don't show up, Geeser says. In those cases, "motorists aren't trained to look for the fraudulent staged accidents, where law enforcement is."

If fraud increases, it could drive up insurance rates for all motorists.

And if police don't show up at the scene of a collision, drivers who have violated a traffic law won't get ticketed, says Jesse Roybal, a spokesman for the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department.

"That's really where the trouble lies," Geeser says.

If someone regularly runs red lights and causes several fender benders, he'll never be caught. "That guy isn't paying any more for his insurance than you or me," Geeser says. "He should be."

Recording a motorist's traffic infractions "helps shape the entire insurance rating system, making it unfair for the people who obey the law," he says.

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