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By John Kristensen of Kristensen, LLP posted in Car Accident on Tuesday, April 17, 2018.
What Is The Role Of Police Officers In Car Accidents In California?

You have probably heard about the importance of calling the police after a car accident. But let’s talk about what role law enforcement plays at the scene of a motor vehicle accident in California, because many people seem to be confused.

Many people in Los Angeles and all across California wrongfully believe that once they call the cops, they will be immediately on their side. Other two misconceptions are that a police officer has to listen to your side of the story, and that you can demand him/her to run a background check on the at-fault driver.

First of all, police officers in California have no legal obligation to listen to what you believe was the cause of the car accident. Second of all, you do not get to make demands to law enforcement.

We invited our Los Angeles car accident attorney from the Kristensen LLP to answer the question: “What functions do police officers perform at car accident scenes?”

What is the role of law enforcement in a car accident?

Since motor vehicle accidents leave more than 2.3 million Americans injured or disabled each year, law enforcement officers take car accidents seriously, and are trained to perform certain functions to keep everyone safe, question all the parties involved, and write a police report.

Our Los Angeles car accident lawyer has outlined the 10 things police officers have a legal duty to do when arriving at the scene of a car crash in California:

  • Secure the scene of the car accident to prevent more collisions and keep everyone safe;
  • Rescue people, if required;
  • Investigate the scene of the accident, documenting all details that may be relevant to resolving the case, including but not limited to number of vehicles involved, skid marks, road and weather conditions, drivers’ behavior;
  • Question drivers, passengers, pedestrians, and witnesses to determine what caused the accident;
  • Run background checks on parties involved in the car crash;
  • Issue traffic citations, if necessary;
  • If one or more of the parties is believed to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol, administer field sobriety tests;
  • Make arrests, if necessary;
  • Take the arrested to the police station;
  • Write a police report.

Police officers do not have to listen to your side of the story

As we have mentioned above, a police officer has no legal obligation to listen to your side of the story. This is one of the most common misconceptions that causes drivers at the scene of a car accident to overact, get frustrated, or even get angry at the cops, which can result in an arrest.

When police officers arrive at the scene of the accident, they focus on performing the above-mentioned 10 functions, and do not like it when people get in the way. But do not assume that you have no right to speak with a police officer.

In reality, while you do have a right to speak with a cop, the officer can choose whether to engage in a conversation with you or not. That means cops do not have a legal obligation to listen to what you think caused the accident or who was to blame.

More likely than not, you will be approached by a police officer during his/her investigation of the scene, and will be asked certain questions. In most such instances, drivers are required to show their identification, driver’s license, car registration, insurance information, and others.

How should you talk to police officers at the scene of a car accident?

A bottom line is this: if you have anything to say at the scene of a car accident, say it (though please do not admit fault before you consult with an attorney). But do not demand a police officer to speak with you or listen to your side of the story. And do not get frustrated or angry if the cop ignores you or asks you to step back.

Do not do anything that may obstruct the police officer’s investigation or his/her other functions. Also, our car accident attorney Los Angeles warns, if you have been asked to step back once, comply with the order and step back. Not doing so can result in your arrest.

If you have been in a car accident and are in need of legal help, do not hesitate to contact the Kristensen LLP for a free case evaluation. Call our offices at 310-984-1297 or complete this contact form today.