Dear Ace: I heard that police officers don’t have to write citations for every traffic accident. Is that true? What kind of discretion do they have?—Rex Carr
Dear Rex: You and Ace are on the same wavelength: His car insurance premiums are pretty deadly, too. So what are the odds of making sure that fender-bender doesn’t put points on your license and drive your rates to staggering new heights? Ace rang up Captain B.A. Bibb at the Charlottesville Police Department to find out.
Sweet talk aside, whether you get cited for a traffic accident depends on whether all fingers (and tire tracks) point to you.
Turns out, a police officer never has to write a citation for an accident. Captain Bibb explains: “It’s always officer discretion in any situation.” But that doesn’t mean that making puppy dog eyes at an officer or slipping him a Hamilton is going to get you out of that “following too closely” charge. While an officer is never strictly required to write a citation, if he or she is able to determine at the scene which driver is at fault, someone’s getting a ticket.
Officers are trained to investigate accident scenes to determine the direction of impact from tire tracks, etc. And they’ll talk to all drivers and passengers, as well as any witnesses who might be around to get the details. So if nobody saw you sideswipe that Beemer and the dents don’t immediately give you away, you might be able to talk your way out of a ticket, but it’s not likely. And you’ll still have to face the scary insurance investigators. So yes, Rex, the promise of officer discretion might give you some distant hope, but if you’re at fault in an accident, it’s gonna come back to bite you somehow.
One last note: Ace reckons you might also be wondering about police discretion regarding the accident report, a document filed with the State that records just what happened after you ran that red light. The general rule is that if the officer on the scene estimates the damage to the vehicle to be less than $1000, he won’t file a report. But if your transmission clanks to the ground five minutes after the officer leaves and you want to make sure your insurance company knows why, no worries; any citizen can file an accident report. Just check at the police station or the DMV—assuming you don’t rear-end anybody on the drive over.