How to Read a Traffic Accident Report

by Colleen Collins

Traffic accident reports contain a vast amount of information, including the parties involved and their contact information, the reporting law enforcement officer's description of the accident, the weather conditions at the time of the accident and vehicle damage severity. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration website is an online resource for both ordering and interpreting traffic accident reports for states, U.S. territories and Indian Nations.


Go to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration State Crash Forms Catalog page. On this page is a clickable graphic of the United States, with additional links to American Samoa, Guam, Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands and Indian Nations. Each state and region has its own traffic accident reporting forms and processes.


Click on the state or region where the accident took place. A page displays that lists agency contact information, resource links, examples of traffic accident reports and overlays. An overlay is a legend for the codes and notations on the accident report.


Scroll down the page to the thumbnails section, which contains printable images of traffic accident reports, overlays and other supplemental forms. Look for a file name with the word "overlay" and the number corresponding to your traffic accident report form. For example, Colorado has two overlay pages corresponding to its two-page passenger traffic accident report DR 2447: Overlay A DR 2447 and Overlay B DR 2447.


Open the overlay form by clicking on its file name, and print it.


Trim the overlay form. Cut along the left and right margins, then fit the overly form within your traffic accident report by lining up the numbers on the overlay with the same numbers on the tabbed boxes in the report (this lines up written explanations to your traffic accident report). The other information on the report will be descriptive text, and is self-explanatory (for example, in a box marked "Skid Marks," an officer records the length of skid marks at the scene, or in a box marked "Citation," an officer indicates if a ticket was given and the offense).


  • check If your state or region doesn't provide an overlay form, the codes might be defined in the traffic accident report. Otherwise, look on the state or region State Crash Forms Catalog page for a file name that indicates code or report definitions (for example, Code List, Data Dictionary or Crash Form). If you need additional help finding the appropriate form, contact the agency representative listed at the top of the page.

About the Author

In 1997 Harlequin published Colleen Collins' first novel, followed by many more by Harlequin and Dorchester. Her articles and writing have appeared in "P.I. Magazine," "Pursuit Magazine" and "Cosmopolitan." She earned a B.A. in theater arts from University of California, Santa Barbara and is an active member of Mystery Writers of America.

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