Do I Need to Report a Car Accident in California?

Learn what kinds of car accidents need to be reported in California, and what happens if you don't report the crash.

After a car accident  in California, it is important to understand your legal obligations when it comes to reporting the accident. Do you always have to report a crash? If so, who do you have to report it to, and within how much time? In this article, we'll answer those questions and more.

When Do I Need to Report a Car Accident to Law Enforcement Authorities in California?

According to California Vehicle Code section 20008, the driver of any vehicle (or a representative of that driver) involved in a car accident must, within 24 hours, make a written report of the crash to the California Highway Patrol or to the police department of the city where the accident occured, if the crash resulted in injuries or death of any person (driver, passenger, pedestrian, bicyclist, motorcyclist, etc.). If the agency that receives the report is not responsible for investigating the accident, that agency will forward it to the proper investigating authority.

It's important to note that, if a law enforcement officer comes to the scene of your accident, he or she will prepare a written report of the accident on behalf of the agency. In that situation, you need not make your own separate written report.  

Do I Need to Report a Car Accident to the California DMV?

In many situations, the answer is yes. Any driver involved in an accident in California needs to report the crash to the California DMV within 10 days if:

  • anyone involved in the accident was injured (however slightly)
  • anyone was killed in the accident, and/or
  • the crash resulted in property damage (meaning damage to a vehicle or real property) of more than $750.

Learn more about Traffic Accident Report SR1 and get a copy of the form (from the California DMV website).  

For more information on the rules for reporting a car accident in California, you can refer to  California Vehicle Code sections 20000 through 20018. You can also learn more about state laws that could affect a car accident claim in California in our companion article  Car Accident Laws in California.

Should I Report the Accident to My Car Insurance Company?

States do not generally have any laws on whether -- or when -- policyholders who get into a car accident should report the accident to their automobile insurer, and California is no exception.

However, every automobile insurance contract requires the policyholder to  report a car accident to the insurer  very soon after the fact. The sooner the insurer knows about the accident, the sooner it can start trying to defend the claim. If the insured fails to report an accident within a reasonable period of time, the insurer may deny coverage in connection with the crash. An insurance company could define a “reasonable period of time” as being as little as a day or two, depending on the circumstances of your accident.

Bottom line: Even if your car accident was minor and did not rise to the level of a "reportable accident" in California, you still want to report it to your automobile insurer just to make sure that the carrier will provide coverage for the accident if you should need it.

You've Reported the Accident. Now What?

Reporting a car accident in California may be just the first step. If you're making an insurance claim for serious injuries, or if you're facing a lawsuit from an injured driver or passenger, you may want to contact a qualified California car accident lawyer to make sure your legal options -- and your legal rights -- are protected. Learn more about  Hiring a Car Accident Lawyer.

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