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Citations involving accidents


Purpose

Often, a citation issued at an accident scene is a proper description how one driver was wrong and caused the accident.  But at other times such a citation might argued as being improper and wrongly cited.

Here I present the other side of the story involving traffic citations issued to drivers who are involved in an accident.  I am not saying accident citations should not be written.  I am not saying that those citations are not valid.  I am saying a number of factors can combine to cause citations to be written which can be successfully challenged.

The insurance companies

As a police officer I observed insurance companies pressuring my employer to write tickets.  If the police agency writes the citation, it determines who was at fault and which insurance company is responsible for the damage.  It relieves the insurance company of that responsibility.  Further, police could often find hidden problems, like one participant who is driving under suspension.  That helps the insurance companies.

The revenue

As a police officer I observed that tickets generate revenue for both the courts and the municipalities.

One observed result

The results of these pressures can cause a police department to require all accidents result in one or more citations issued at the time of the report.  If the officer cannot determine who is at fault, the completed accident is to be sent to the prosecutor who will define who is to be cited based on the writings in the report.

The accident report

This does not mean that all accidents receive citations.

No report is made

Making a police report, regardless of fault, results in an entry on your driving record that identifies you were involved in an accident.  Many drivers will decided that even though they are not at fault, they don't wish a report be made.

It is important in this case that one fully documents the date, time, location, road conditions, identity of the other driver, identity of the other car, damage to each vehicle, identity of passengers and name of the other driver's insurance company.  If possible, take pictures at the scene.  Take all possible information so that if you later need to make a report, you'll have that information.

IMPORTANT!  IF YOU DON'T MAKE A REPORT

Be sure to see the hit-skip (failure to report) statute below.  Hit skip is a vicious crime when applied to someone who thought they had an agreement with another drive to not make a report.  It is ALWAYS a good idea to report the fact that the accident occurred and that you and the other driver do not wish a report.  You report this to the police department having jurisdiction over the location of the accident.  Give them your name.  Give them your phone number.  Write down the name of who you talk to, the time and the number you called to report the accident.  Be careful!  Hit skip can be a felony.  Hit skip can land you in prison.  Call me!

Does your insurance company require a report?

Ask your insurance agent if a report is required should a claim against your insurance be made.  If so, and if you are not at fault, you are sometimes better off asking for a report at the time of the accident.  You will document the other driver's actions, possibly formalize the blame through a citation issued to the other driver and document it for your insurance company.

Reports on station

Sometimes a report can be made later at the police station.  Perhaps the officer that responds to an accident scene will suggest that.  Other times the officers just don't have time.  Reports must be made at the police station. 

Different departments do things in different ways.  Some cite on station-made reports.  Most do not.

When a report must be made to the State of Ohio

In Ohio, if the damage is over $400.00 or if either driver is uninsured, a report must be made to the State of Ohio within six months of the date of the accident.  The report that must be used can be found here.

Required reports to the local authorities

Ohio law sometimes requires an accident report.  Look here:

4509.74 Prohibition against failure to report accident.

(A) No person shall fail to report a motor vehicle accident as required under the laws of this state.

(B) Whoever violates this section is guilty of a minor misdemeanor.

The need for a report is covered in the hit skip ordinance:

4549.02 Stopping after accident on public roads or highways (Hit Skip).

(A) In case of accident to or collision with persons or property upon any of the public roads or highways, due to the driving or operation thereon of any motor vehicle, the person driving or operating the motor vehicle, having knowledge of the accident or collision, immediately shall stop the driverís or operatorís motor vehicle at the scene of the accident or collision and shall remain at the scene of the accident or collision until the driver or operator has given the driverís or operatorís name and address and, if the driver or operator is not the owner, the name and address of the owner of that motor vehicle, together with the registered number of that motor vehicle, to any person injured in the accident or collision or to the operator, occupant, owner, or attendant of any motor vehicle damaged in the accident or collision, or to any police officer at the scene of the accident or collision.

In the event the injured person is unable to comprehend and record the information required to be given by this section, the other driver involved in the accident or collision forthwith shall notify the nearest police authority concerning the location of the accident or collision, and the driverís name, address, and the registered number of the motor vehicle the driver was operating, and then remain at the scene of the accident or collision until a police officer arrives, unless removed from the scene by an emergency vehicle operated by a political subdivision or an ambulance.

If the accident or collision is with an unoccupied or unattended motor vehicle, the operator who collides with the motor vehicle shall securely attach the information required to be given in this section, in writing, to a conspicuous place in or on the unoccupied or unattended motor vehicle.

(B) Whoever violates division (A) of this section is guilty of failure to stop after an accident, a misdemeanor of the first degree. If the violation results in serious physical harm to a person, failure to stop after an accident is a felony of the fifth degree. If the violation results in the death of a person, failure to stop after an accident is a felony of the third degree. The court, in addition to any other penalties provided by law, shall impose upon the offender a class five suspension of the offenderís driverís license, commercial driverís license, temporary instruction permit, probationary license, or nonresident operating privilege from the range specified in division (A)(5) of section 4510.02 of the Revised Code. No judge shall suspend the first six months of suspension of an offenderís license, permit, or privilege required by this division.

Hit skip is a serious crime.  Call me immediately!  As you can see above, it is at least a first degree misdemeanor punishable by six months in jail and a fine of $1000.00.  It is often a felony and can land you in prison.  Your license is suspended.  You need advice.  Call me.

So what's the problem with accident-based citations?

If the culture is that someone must have caused the accident, therefore someone should be cited, then citations can be issued in haste and can then be argued as inappropriate.  Here's a section of law designed to insure someone gets a ticket:

4511.202 Operation without being in reasonable control of vehicle, trolley, or streetcar.

(A) No person shall operate a motor vehicle, trackless trolley, streetcar, agricultural tractor, or agricultural tractor that is towing, pulling, or otherwise drawing a unit of farm machinery on any street, highway, or property open to the public for vehicular traffic without being in reasonable control of the vehicle, trolley, streetcar, agricultural tractor, or unit of farm machinery.

(B) Whoever violates this section is guilty of operating a motor vehicle or agricultural tractor without being in control of it, a minor misdemeanor

That's the "somebody is going to get a ticket" statute.  The issue becomes what is "reasonable control".  Sliding off the street due to ice might be, if you were speeding, operating recklessly or not paying attention.  But the simple act of sliding off an icy road, it can be argued, is not a failure.  At least not without more.

See my other page on failure to control by clicking here.

Fighting the accident citation

You need an advocate in these situations.  The state arrives with a properly prepared, properly motivated prosecutor very familiar with the law, the courts and the area.  You can't simply disagree.  You must cite precedence, case law, public policy and other arguments in answer to the prosecutor's complaints.

But I'm probably guilty

Be careful.  Even if guilty you should have counsel to protect against overcharging, secondary effects, overbearing and the potential your being found guilty has on subsequent civil actions (lawsuits for injury and damages).  There are more points levied against your license with some statutes than others.

You need counsel.  Call me.