Many of us spend time in a car almost daily, which means it’s inevitable that most people will eventually be in a car accident. If you find yourself in that situation, the first priority is to check on the condition of the people present in all involved vehicles. Immediately call for emergency medical services as needed and contact the police.
While you’re waiting for the police to arrive, taking accident scene photos can be a huge help for making an insurance claim or building your legal case. However, you should only do this if you’re not physically injured and if the scene around the accident is safe enough for you to take pictures without putting yourself (or others) in danger.
Why is accident scene photography important?
Accident scene photography is important because, besides eyewitness accounts and a police record, it might be the only reliable evidence that can be collected from the scene.
As soon as each of the people involved in the accident is accounted for and emergency services are on the way, the second priority should be taking accident scene photos. You might not know in the moment if you will make an insurance claim or pursue a lawsuit relating to the crash, but it’s a good idea to collect as much evidence as possible, just in case. Also, if you end up being sued or if the other driver makes a claim against your insurance company, the photos could be helpful for you to have.
Even if you suspect that the collision was your fault, accident scene photography can show certain conditions that might lessen your liability. A set of photographs is one way to have an indisputable record showing the positions of the vehicles, the weather, and other important factors that might seem insignificant to you at the time but that could be very important as part of a legal case down the road.
Often, a person’s memory becomes unreliable after being involved in a car accident. Sometimes, this could be because of a head injury. Other times, because the accident is traumatic, the person may be unsure of what to do.
There are many other stressors involved that can affect how a person mental processes the situation. That’s why photos can help you to reconstruct what happened and preserve certain details that might be fuzzy in your memory.
Enjuris Tip: In addition to taking photos, consider writing down what you remember about the accident as soon as possible. Use our free post-accident pain journal to document these details before they’re lost from memory.
Tips for taking accident scene photos
The best time to take photos of an accident is immediately after the crash, before police arrive. The closer you can capture the exact position of the cars and have your images document the specific conditions surrounding the collision, the more helpful your photos will be as evidence.
(As mentioned earlier, only do this if it is safe and there isn’t danger from oncoming traffic.)
As you begin taking accident scene photos, there are several things to keep in mind to ensure the images are useful for eventual insurance or legal purposes. Many of us today enjoy the well-composed, artful images commonly found on Instagram or other social sharing platforms. You may enjoy playing with filters and using other tricks to make your images more visually appealing. As tempting as that habit might be, resist the urge to compose accident scene photography the way you would for social sharing — the purpose of these photos is to show the facts of the scene, exactly as they are.
Here are a few tips to keep in mind as you take accident scene photos:
- Get an overview of the scene. Take a few steps back (where it’s safe to do so) and shoot photos of the entire accident scene from several angles. Try to show the position of the involved vehicles as they relate to each other, to the roadway, and any other objects (buildings, trees, guardrails, etc.) that might be relevant. Don’t worry if there are other elements present that weren’t there at the time of the crash. For example, there could be police officers or bystanders in the photos, but that won’t affect the overall picture. Be sure that each of the involved vehicles is viewable in a single photo, from various angles, because that’s what will help demonstrate perspective.
- Traffic signals are important. A photo won’t be able to show whether a traffic light was red or green at the time of a crash, but the position of traffic lights, signs, and other indicators relative to the crash scene will provide valuable information for accident reconstruction specialists and investigators. Likewise, if you’re able to take photos of the scene that include skid marks, debris, broken glass, or other indicators of how the crash occurred or its aftermath, those can be helpful.
- How’s the weather? If it’s raining or snowing and the roads are slippery, that might be a contributing factor. Or some car accidents happen because the sun blinded the driver, and that’s also relevant. Your general overview photos might show the weather, but if you can take a few photos from the perspective of each driver’s relative position at the time of the crash, it might add some detail with respect to other weather factors.
- Photograph visible damage to each vehicle. Walk around the perimeter of each vehicle and take close-up photos of dents, scratches, broken glass, deployed airbags, and other visible signs of damage. If it’s safe to lean in and photograph the interiors of the cars, that’s a good idea, too.
- Other property damage. There might be property damage to items belonging to the drivers or passengers of the involved vehicles, and also external property. Look around at guardrails, street signs, sidewalks, lampposts, trees, or anything stationary that might have been damaged in the crash. If there’s any significant property damage to items in your car, they should be photographed so that you can add them to an insurance claim. Manufacturers of child safety seats recommend they be replaced after any collision, no matter how small. Most insurers will cover the cost of a replacement seat so it’s helpful to have a photo, even if the seat doesn’t appear damaged.
- People and injuries. If you suffered any visible injury, have it documented as you’re taking accident scene photos. If you’re unable to take a picture yourself, ask someone else at the scene to do it for you. However, DON’T take photos of someone else’s injuries, especially without their permission. If you are able to take photos of non-injured people for the purposes of later identification, that can be helpful. But certainly don’t do this if including them in your accident scene photography is going to cause an argument or elevate tensions further.
- Document the documents. That’s right — take photos of the other drivers’ licenses and registrations, along with any involved vehicles’ license plates. The police who respond to the scene should take notations of these documents, but it can only help you to have your own copy of this information. Even police officers make mistakes. One wrong digit written on a police report can be the difference between a successful insurance claim and an unsuccessful one.
Safety always comes first
When an accident happens, the most important thing to remember is to stay safe. If you’re injured, do what you need to do to take care of your injuries, or wait for emergency personnel to help you. If it doesn’t feel right to be walking around and taking accident scene photos because you’re lightheaded, unsteady on your feet, or for any number of reasons, then don’t.
There are likely to be bystanders, police officers, or perhaps uninjured passengers who can take photos. If someone you don’t know is taking pictures, give that person your phone number and email address so that they can send you the photos (if you’re able to write down their contact information, that would be even better).
Knowing that accident scene photography can be crucial to a successful insurance claim, defense, or legal case already puts you ahead of the game. Many people won’t think of this important step in the moments after an accident, so be sure to share your knowledge with friends and family.
You never know when you or someone you love will face the unexpected, and the more prepared you are, the better off you can be in the long run.