Listen to the news long enough, and you’re bound to hear that there’s been a crash on a Missouri highway. Each time there’s a crash, a Missouri State Highway Patrol trooper will visit the scene and fill out an accident report. That report can then go on to play a major role in any legal battles that follow.
Missouri uses the "fault" system to assign personal and financial liability in the wake of a crash, and the courts and insurance companies often rely upon the details of an accident report to decide how much each party is at fault. But did you ever wonder what goes into one of these reports?
The anatomy of an accident report
As the Missouri State Highway Patrol shows on their website, an official accident report contains a wealth of information about the drivers, vehicles, damages and environmental conditions involved in a crash. But just in case you find their website difficult to parse, here are some of the more pertinent details you can find in a report:
- Place and Participants: Each report includes the date and time the troopers were notified of the crash, the time they arrived, street names and a check box to indicate whether the crash was investigated at the scene. It will also include the names of the drivers involved, their contact and insurance information, and the make, model and license plate numbers of their vehicles.
- Damages and Injuries: Damages to vehicles are indicated on a numbered grid and checklist that divides the vehicles into 22 different zones. Injuries are broken down by seat location, type and the use of safety devices such as seatbelts and air bags.
- Environmental Circumstances: Officers use checklists to show the types of vehicles involved, the weather conditions, available daylight, road conditions, presence of any stop signs or stop lights, and what was happening as the vehicles collided. Troopers will also sketch out a picture of the crash, including street names, and note if anyone took photos.
- Probable Contributing Circumstances: This section of the accident report allows the trooper to note such items as poor vehicle maintenance, DUI, speeding, improper turns and distracted driving. In other words, this one’s a checklist of items that can be used against a driver.
- Commercial Vehicle: If a crash involves a commercial vehicle, troopers record this information separately.
- Room for Statements: Finally, an accident report has room for the officers to note any statements that people offer at the scene and to create a narrative of the events. The report allots roughly one-third of a standard page to these handwritten details, although officers can attach extra sheets as needed.
A human record
At first glance, the Highway Patrol accident report looks like an exhaustive document, but whether it is truly fair, complete and correct depends on how it was filled out. It’s important to remember that troopers are people with their good moments and their bad, and you don’t have to accept the findings of an incomplete or inaccurate report.