Reporting a Car Accident: Steps to Take

If you get into a car accident, who might you need to notify?

If you get into a car accident, there are three entities that you might need to report the accident to, depending on the seriousness of the accident: the police, your insurance company, and your state's Department of Motor Vehicles. But not all accidents need to be reported. This article will discuss when an accident should be reported, and to whom. (More steps to take after a car accident.)

Should You Call the Police Immediately After the Accident?

You should generally plan to call the police from the accident scene. Many states have a law requiring the police to be informed if a car accident causes bodily injury or property damage that exceeds $500 or $1,000.

Don’t take a chance. If you, the other driver, or any of the passengers in either car complains of injury, call the police. If you can see visible damage to either car that is more than a ding, call the police. These days, it can cost $1,000 to fix the smallest dent in a car. So, if either car was moving at more than a minimal speed at the time of the collision, call the police. If you don’t have a phone, ask the other driver to call the police.

When the police come, they will ask you what happened. You will undoubtedly have some time to wait before the police arrive. Make sure to use that time to review in your own mind how you believe the accident happened. Then, when the police ask you what happened, you can tell them what you think happened accurately and honestly. (Learn more about police reports after a car accident.)

But if you don’t have a phone, the other driver won’t call the police, and there are no passersby or pay phones nearby, then you can’t call the police. In that situation, you should just exchange names, addresses, drivers license numbers, and insurance and registration information with the other driver. You should then go to the police station as soon as you can after the accident. As long as you make your best efforts to inform the police about the accident, you should not be penalized.

Report the Accident to Your Insurance Company Immediately

You should call your automobile insurance company to report the accident as soon as possible, and certainly no later than the day after the accident. Every insurance policy has a requirement that the insured (you) cooperate with the insurance company. If the insured does not cooperate with the insurance company, the insurance company can deny insurance coverage for an accident. Not reporting the accident to the insurance company quickly can be deemed failure to cooperate. Don’t take a chance on this. Don’t wait. If you get into a car accident, call your insurance company that day -- or the next day -- at the latest and tell them exactly what happened. (More: contacting your car insurance company after an accident.)

Be Honest with Your Insurance Company

It should go without saying that you must tell the insurance company exactly what happened as best as you can remember it. If you are not completely honest with the insurance company, it could deny coverage for the accident. It probably won’t, but, again, don’t take a chance.

Continue to Cooperate with Your Insurance Company

Depending on the severity of the accident, your insurance company might want to take its own pictures of your car. But once your car is fixed, then the insurance company can no longer take pictures of the damage. Keep your insurance company informed about when you are getting your car fixed so that it can take pictures of your car if it wants to.

If you move or change your phone number after you report the accident, make sure to give your adjuster your updated contact information, especially if you are the defendant. If the case progresses, and your insurance carrier can’t find you, it may try to deny coverage.

You May Need to File an Accident Report with a State Agency

Many states require drivers to file an accident report -- in addition to calling the police -- if they get into a car accident that causes bodily injury or a certain amount of property damage. Some states require that the report be filed with the state Department of Motor Vehicles; other states require that the report be filed with the local police department, or with the police department and the Department of Motor Vehicles.

The report usually has to be filed within a short period of time, generally ten days or two weeks. If you cannot figure out whether your state’s law requires you to file an accident report, you should ask your insurance company or inquire at your local police station. You can most likely get a copy of the report form at your local police station or online at your Department of Motor Vehicles website.

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