Why do police take general reports? The most brutal answer is because no one will remember the details in two days, much less two years and they will argue it constantly: but it is also because society needs a third party who should be an impartial fact evaluator. “Should” is emphasized. We are assuming the officer/deputy has sufficient training to determine what evidence plays into the case.
We are also assuming the officer/deputy has no bias or stereotype towards the parties involved OR they do but recognize it and adjust accordingly.
Police write collision reports for the state (in which they operate) in departments of transportation. The report is designed to collect information regarding roadway design, operator error, alcohol and/or drug use, etc. While important, one of the last concerns is for the report to document for the parties involved the specifics of the event.
By utilizing report templates, experience, training, and bias, all can significantly affect collision reports. Why?
There are many reasons police have errors in their reports, but by far, the main reason is lack of training. In order to become a police officer, candidates attend an academy which averages six months, some academies are longer. Typically, collision investigation for basic recruit training is less than a day's worth of training. In this time the instructor needs to cover everything from scene security to traffic patterns to general hazards. Most training does not include: skid mark interpretation, speed calculations, principle direction of force, drag factors, etc. In fact, unless the student after graduation and long into his or her career chooses to attend further training there will be no updates, refreshers, revisions, or continuations to the academy foundation.
Specialty training is necessary to understand the concepts and the physics behind a motor vehicle collision and these are not part of the basic academy curriculum. Therefore, when determining causality and/or specifics of the accident it is critical to ascertain the extent of training of the police officer.
So what do you take away from the police collision report? Only those facts which can be verified by witness, corroborated evidence, or soundly concluded by the two. The police are fact gatherers, not “causality arbiters” and should be utilized as such. The caveat is there are police experts who have advanced training in accident investigation, crash dynamics and accident reconstruction. The average police officer is not and should not be considered as one.
If the police report in your case is in error due to the police officer reporting mistakes, it will take a person like Patrick Sundby to undo the problem. He is an expert in his field and does not come cheaply. Assuming you will be proven right and the report could be modified, the price of doing so could be between $2,500 and $5,000. Is it worth it? That depends on whether your injuries/damages were substantial along with other factors.
Call me for a consultation.
Patrick Sundby has decades of experience in the automotive industry including several years in law enforcement collision investigation. He has also been a driver training and firearms instructor in law enforcement and a police officer for 9 years before specializing in accident investigations. He has had the privilege of participating in both learning and teaching at Prince William County Criminal Justice Training Academy in Virginia and studied at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Georgia. His specialty is low speed and catastrophic crashes and has testified over 500 times at various levels. (This article has been modified and reproduced with express permission of Mr. Sundby.) –THOMAS F. BROWN, II