What Information is Included in a Florida Car Accident Report?
With more than 15 million drivers cruising around Florida’s roadways, vehicle accidents are not just a possibility in the Sunshine State, they’re a part of everyday life.
What led to the accident, however, is often the subject of discussion, debate, police reporting, and very often, lawsuits. Understanding when a Florida car accident report is required and what’s included in it can help protect your rights under the law and ensure you’re treated fairly by the system regardless of your liability exposure.
What’s Required Under Florida Law
The best piece of advice for people involved in a vehicle accident of any kind is, of course, to contact law enforcement immediately and have a police officer write up a report. Under Florida law, police are required to be called to the scene if the crash involves:
- A death or injury
- An involved party fleeing the accident scene
- The suspected influence of alcohol
- One or more of the vehicles being towed from the scene
- Property damage in excess of $500
Failure to comply with this requirement can result in a noncriminal, nonmoving traffic violation and violators are subject to fines, fees, and court costs.
Responsibilities to Report
If any of the above has occurred and the accident is investigated by a law enforcement officer, the subsequent accident report—called a long-form accident report—must be submitted to the Florida Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) within 10 days of the crash. This report must include:
- The date, time, and location of the crash
- A description of the vehicles involved
- The names and addresses of the parties involved, including all drivers and passengers, and the identification of the vehicle in which each was a driver or passenger
- The names and addresses of witnesses
- The name, badge number, and law enforcement agency of the officer investigating the crash
- The names of the insurance companies for the respective parties involved in the crash
If none of the crash circumstances that require the presence of a police officer have occurred, but an officer has nevertheless been called to the scene, he or she must either file a short-form accident report with the DMV containing much of the same information (with less detail) or supply the DMV with an exchange-of-information form, which must be completed by all drivers and passengers involved in the accident.
If an officer is not called to the scene of an accident and an official law enforcement report is not required, it’s still a good idea to submit one anyway. Any driver involved in a vehicle accident can file a Florida car accident report with the DMV using one of the department’s approved forms. Just like the law enforcement report, however, driver-produced reports must also be submitted to the DMV within 10 days.
Accident Report Privilege
Regardless of whether the Florida car accident report is filed by a driver or law enforcement officer, the fairness or impartiality of the report is not always guaranteed. For officer-submitted reports, Florida, like many other states, has put in place a special reporting exemption known as the Accident Report Privilege. This privilege not only encourages drivers, passengers, and witnesses to be as honest and truthful in their accident reporting as possible, it also protects those same people by upholding their 5th Amendment right not to self-incriminate. Specifically, the law states that:
“Except as specified in this subsection, each crash report made by a person involved in a crash and any statement made by such person to a law enforcement officer for the purpose of completing a crash report required by this section shall be without prejudice to the individual so reporting. Such report or statement may not be used as evidence in any trial, civil or criminal.”
Despite these protections, however, Florida courts have repeatedly ruled that there are limitations to the Accident Report Privilege and that certain information cannot be protected by it, because it may provide tangible proof of liability or fault. For example, if a driver confesses to an investigating officer that he or she fell asleep at the wheel or was distracted while driving, this “excited utterance” against his or her interest may be admissible in a subsequent civil proceeding relating to the accident.
There are a few other exemptions to the Accident Report Privilege, as well. For example, the privilege does not protect statements made in a criminal investigation, nor does it protect drivers from the results of their field sobriety tests, breathalyzer tests, or blood tests. The privilege is also off the table in circumstances where a driver’s identity may be under scrutiny. For example, if a driver claims he or she was not at the scene of an accident, an investigating officer may use the information provided in the report to prove the identity of the driver.
For the vast majority of vehicle accident cases and claims, however, the Accident Report Privilege prevents statements made at the scene of an accident from being entered into evidence, even those statements refute testimony provided under oath. The purpose of the Accident Report Privilege is to ensure that the DMV receives truthful and accurate information so it can make Florida’s roadways safer. To learn more about car accident report privilege, see Wetherington v. State, 1D13-1327 (Fla. 1st DCA Apr. 16, 2014)
Florida Car Accident Reports and the Public Record
As outlined in the state statute, vehicle accident reports contain a considerable amount of private information, such as names, home addresses, insurers, and more. For a period of 60 days, this information is only available to certain people and entities, including:
- The parties involved in the crash
- The parties’ legal representatives
- The parties’ insurance companies and their licensed representatives
- Insurance claim adjustors under contract with the parties’ insurers
- Law enforcement officials
- The Florida Department of Transportation
- County traffic officials
- Florida Victim-Witness Service Program officials
- Radio and television stations licensed by the FCC
- Newspapers that meet Florida’s statutory qualifications
Although it may seem like a lot of people have immediate access to this information, the general public will not be able to access it beyond news reports until the 60-day window has expired. The purpose of keeping this information semi-confidential during this time is to give those involved in the accident the chance to seek medical attention and recover from the trauma of the collision. It also prevents the accident’s parties from receiving unwanted contact from body shops, chiropractors, lawyer referral services, and others who might benefit financially from having immediate access to this sensitive information.
What Should You Do Now
If you’ve been involved in a vehicle accident and have provided information to a police officer or have submitted a report directly to the DMV, a good piece of advice is to reach out to a car accident lawyer like Alan Sackrin, who has years of experience going to trial on motor vehicle accidents.
A knowledgeable personal injury attorney like Alan will know how to ensure your rights are protected and that this information can be introduced into evidence if necessary.
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