After an accident, some drivers are faced with a dilemma: Do they move their car off to the side of the road or leave it? Don’t the police need to see the cars as they were to determine fault? What about traffic and the risk of being hit again? These are all legitimate questions, and the answer depends on what stat you are in.
Washington State Law
In Washington State, the law requires you to move your vehicle out of the road to a safe place unless there is an injury or death. In those cases, the law states that the driver should stop as close to the accident scene as possible and remain there until police arrive.
Washington Revised Code 46.52.20 states “The driver of any vehicle involved in an accident resulting only in damage to a vehicle which is driven or attended by any person or damage to other property must move the vehicle as soon as possible off the roadway ….”
The law states that if a motorist does move their vehicle, it in no way affects the determination of fault in the accident. The purpose of the law is to ensure the safety of those at the scene and of other drivers approaching the accident.
It is also to balance the needs of traffic flow with the need of investigators to ascertain how the accident happened if there is an injury or death.
A good example of the dangers of cars in the roadway after an accident is a rear-end accident caught on video in April, 2019. A Florida Highway Patrol Helicopter spotted two cars that collided on Brandon Boulevard approaching the onramp to I-75 and had stopped in one of the middle lanes. A video shows several near misses that could have caused serious injuries, especially one near miss involving a motorcycle. This poignantly illustrates how important it is to remove the cars from traffic.
What if I’m Injured?
If the driver of either car is seriously injured, then the law exempts the drivers from the requirement that the car be moved. However, the law gives police on the scene the authority to move the vehicles by driving, pushing or calling a tow truck, and it absolves them from liability for further damage to the cars or injuries to people.
Bottom line: You must move the car out of the street or traffic lanes if there is no injury or death. If there is, then you are to leave the vehicle where it is and follow the instructions of the police once they arrive.