According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), there were over 5.25 million police-reported car accidents in the United States in 2020. Fortunately, most crashes are relatively minor, involving only property damage.
If you're involved in a minor car accident, here's what you need to know about when you're contractually and legally required to report a crash:
Car accidents, even seemingly minor ones, are stressful. Drivers typically aren't in the best frame of mind right after a crash and it's impossible for anyone to immediately know the full extent of all vehicle damage and injuries. So, it's important to take the same steps after every accident, including:
Accident reporting requirements vary by state and typically depend on the circumstances of the crash. Most states require drivers to report all accidents involving injuries or death and accidents involving property damage over a certain amount, typically $1,000 to $2,000.
For example, drivers in Texas must immediately report an accident to local law enforcement when an accident causes death, injuries, or damage to a vehicle to the extent that it can't be safely driven from the scene.
Drivers in California must report an accident to state or local law enforcement within 24 hours if the accident causes death or injuries. Drivers have 10 days to report an accident to the California DMV when the accident involves death, injuries, or property damage of $1,000 more.
Check with your insurance agent or your local department of vehicles to find out the reporting requirements in your state.
Learn more about car accident laws in your state.
(Tex. Trans. Code § 550.026; Cal. Veh. Code § 20008.)
If anyone is injured in the accident, you should report the accident to your insurance company no matter how minor the injury appears to be. Many common car accident injuries—like soft tissue damage caused by whiplash—can take several days to develop. You may feel fine immediately after the accident, only to find a few days later that you have serious neck or back pain.
You should report the accident to your insurance company even if you don't intend to file a claim under your own policy. It's not always obvious who will be responsible—and able to pay—for your damages. Make sure you satisfy your policy's requirement to protect your right to file a claim down the road.
Car accidents are a hassle and often involve a lot of paperwork. People are sometimes tempted to avoid reporting minor accidents because they don't want their insurance rates to go up and they trust that they can work things out with the other driver. Failing to report an accident is a big risk that can lead to a denial of coverage and cancellation of your policy.
Now, if you hit your own garage door or fence and you want to pay for repairs out of your own pocket, you probably don't have to report the accident. But you should—and may be required—to report any accident that could result in a dispute over fault or damages.
Some people hesitate to report a minor car accident because they know that their driving record affects their premiums. If you've been involved in multiple accidents, you're going to pay more for insurance. But what's the alternative?
If you were at fault for an accident, you may have received a ticket or citation at the scene of the accident. This ticket will appear on your driving record, which your car insurance company will review when deciding whether to renew your coverage. If the insurer realizes that you were at fault in an accident that you never reported, your premiums will skyrocket or your insurer will cancel your coverage altogether.
If you aren't at fault for the accident, your insurance rates likely won't increase as a result of the accident. You can file a claim directly with the at-fault driver's insurer (called a "third-party" claim) and get compensation for your accident-related losses.
You may be able to handle your own car accident claim if you have the time and energy to devote to it. But even minor accidents can have major financial implications. If you have questions, talk to a lawyer. A lawyer can answer help you figure out the best path forward.
Learn more about hiring a car accident lawyer. When you're ready, you can connect with a lawyer directly from this page for free.