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Reading Your California Car Accident Report

Knowing the evidence is key to winning your case

When you’re involved in a car accident in California, the investigating law enforcement officer will fill out a report. The Traffic Collision Report, form CHP555, will become a key piece of evidence in your case. It includes critical information that can help to establish liability for the accident, and if the investigating officer is later called to testify at trial or in a deposition, the report will likely become the basis for their testimony.

In short, it’s important to understand what your accident report says. The Swanson Law Group has prepared this brief guide to the California police accident report to help. If you need help reviewing your accident report or need to discuss your case with a lawyer, we’d be happy to meet with you in a free consultation.

How to get your California accident report

In California, anyone who is involved or is a party of interest in an accident can obtain a copy of the police report. An interested party might include a parent of a minor involved in an accident, an insurance company that covered one of the vehicles involved in the accident, or an attorney representing one of the involved parties.

To request a copy of the report, you need to fill out Form CHP190, an application for release of information. In this application, you must provide:

  • The name of a driver or owner of a vehicle involved in the accident
  • The location, date, and time of the accident
  • Your relation to the accident
  • Notarized signature or photocopy of your photo ID

In addition, you must provide the California Highway Patrol with an address to which to send the report, as well as a check or money order to pay for the report – this usually costs about $10 depending on the length of the report itself. You can mail in this request or apply in person at the California Highway Patrol Office where the report was filed.

Instead of requesting the accident report yourself, you may be able to get a copy from your insurance adjuster, if they have requested it themselves. If you retain us to handle your claim, we will handle the request for the accident report and any other documents we need from that point forward.

How to read your California accident report

Accident Report instructions pg. 1

Page 1

The top of the cover page is an overview of the accident, including the location, date, and time the crash occurred. This section also notes whether the crash was a hit-and-run and includes the ID number of the investigating officer.

On the left side, you will find basic information on each person involved in the accident, including contact information, demographics, and insurance information. Pay attention to each person’s role in the accident and whether air bags or safety equipment were used.

On the right side, the officer documents the vehicles involved, including the year, make, model, license plate, and owner’s name. Pay attention to the documented vehicle damage, which may also affect liability for injuries depending on where the vehicle was hit.

Accident Report instructions pg. 2

Page 2

The information at the top (such as the date of the accident) should match the first page.

Any non-vehicle property damage is described here.

Page 2 details the type of collision and, crucially, the conditions or circumstances that may have contributed to it. This information may need to be cross-referenced with details elsewhere in the report – for instance, if lighting was low and another driver was going over the speed limit, they may have been going too fast for the conditions.

The investigating officer draws a sketch of the accident on this page. Any notes that don’t fit elsewhere may go in the “Miscellaneous” section, so read it carefully.

Accident Report instructions pg. 3

Page 3

The information at the top (such as the date of the accident) should match the first page.

The investigating officer describes the injuries to each person involved in the accident on this page. As many copies of Page 3 will be used as are needed to document each person involved.

Note that not all injuries are immediately obvious, so this page is not the final say.

Accident Report instructions pg. 4

Page 4

The information at the top (such as the date of the accident) should match the first page.

If the space provided on Page 2 was insufficient, the investigating officer will use this page to draw a more detailed diagram of the accident.

Click here to download a printable version of How To Read Your California Accident Report.

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