California Car Accident Reporting

August 11, 2022 | Article by Chain | Cohn | Clark staff

California Car Accident Reporting

The first thing you should do after a California car accident is to ensure that everybody is safe from (further) harm. This might involve getting out of the way, calling 911 to administer medical assistance, calling the California Highway Patrol (CHP) to tow a damaged vehicle to a less dangerous area, etc. 

You should also schedule a professional evaluation with your doctor as soon as possible. Even if you have no visible or painful injuries, you should get checked out to ensure there are no complications that may cause an issue at a later date. 

Once safety has been addressed, the next step is to report your car accident to the proper authorities. 

How to Report a Car Accident in California

After a vehicle crash in California, you may need to report the accident to multiple different parties. The police department, insurance companies, and the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) all have different reporting processes (see below). 

As a general rule of thumb, you will want to be honest and comprehensive when reporting a car accident. Pay attention to how the accident unfolded. If you remember the driver talking on the phone or looking away from the road before the accident, it may be a distracted driving accident. If you saw a signal malfunction or couldn’t clearly see a stop sign, report it. Small details could mean the difference between monetary compensation and financial distress.

Once you have a good understanding of what happened, contact the appropriate parties to explain your situation. Do not admit fault until you have spoken with an attorney. 

Why Is Reporting a Crash Important?

Even less severe accidents should be reported after a crash in California. Car accident reports achieve the following:

  • Begin the process of financial recovery 
  • Provide evidence for a personal injury claim
  • Start any investigations or documentation efforts
  • Prevent any future issues or holdups
  • Satisfy legal requirements in many cases

Reporting a car accident does not require you to admit fault. You should never admit fault after an accident in front of another involved party or insurance company representative. Just filing a report will not require any lawyers or impact your insurance premiums. 

If you sustain a serious injury or require surgery, then you should seek out a car accident attorney as soon as possible. You should report the accident whether you are hiring an injury lawyer or not. Even though it might seem inconvenient or difficult at the moment, it will ultimately make filing a future claim much easier. 

Who Do I Need to Inform of My Accident?

The three main parties to whom you will likely need to report a car accident are the police, insurance companies, and the DMV. Whether or not you are required to report and how you should go about the process will depend on the circumstances of your accident. 

Should I Report an Accident to the Police?

California laws outline when and how you should report car accidents to the police. Some local departments have developed additional rules, but in general, you are only required to report to the police if any of the following are true:

  • The damages total more than $1,000.
  • Somebody was injured in the collision.
  • There are additional criminal circumstances (for example, the driver is unlicensed or under the influence of an illegal substance).

The circumstances of the crash have an effect on how the car accident should be reported. 

If somebody is injured from the accident, you must report to the police via 911 to inform the proper emergency responders. Even if the injuries are minor, trained professionals can help determine what type of response the accident may need. 

You also have to report the crash by calling 911 if a driver is drunk when the crash occurs. Even if nobody is injured, this will allow the local police to determine whether or not criminal charges are necessary. 

If there are no injuries, but the other driver flees the scene or does not have a valid driver’s license, you will need to call the non-emergency number––also sometimes called a “helpline”–– at your nearest police station. Both of these actions are against California law. The individual who didn’t have a license or fled the scene will likely face fines or criminal charges depending on their level of fault in the accident. 

Search online or use a directory to find your local police department’s contact information.

Just because the police show up to your accident scene does not mean they will file a police report. They may decide after an initial investigation that there is no need based on damages, location, and criminal activity. 

If you want an official report to be filed, you may need to ask. If they do file a report, it is essential that you obtain a copy of it. This will serve as a valuable reference throughout the car accident claim process.

There are also times when you may not need to report to the police. If the accident does not meet the qualifying requirements, you can exchange insurance and contact information with the other driver and deal with it later. This is fine if your vehicle damage is low and there are no injuries, but you run the risk of finding out that the maintenance will cost more than you thought. 

It’s always best to get as much personal and insurance information as you can from those involved in the crash just in case something comes up later. If you find out that your repairs will cost more than $1,000 after the fact but cannot find a way to contact the other driver, you will be limited to pursuing compensation from your insurance company. This will likely result in a higher premium. 

Should I Report the Accident to My Insurance Company?

If you are in an accident caused by another driver that resulted in injuries or damages that exceed what you can pay out of pocket, you should report the accident to your insurance company. Provide your insurance with the contact information or insurance information of the other driver and they will assign an agent to negotiate for your compensation. 

If the other driver’s insurance policy can cover the expenses of the crash, your expenses will be paid and your insurance premiums will not be affected. If their policy does not cover all your costs, your insurance may have to pitch in to help, and will therefore increase. It’s also a good rule of thumb to call the insurance company of the other driver just in case they neglected to do so. 

If the accident does not result in any damages or injuries and the other driver is alright with it, you may avoid reporting the crash to your insurance companies to avoid the increased premiums.

Should I File a CA DMV Accident Report?

According to California state law, you have 10 days to report a car accident to the DMV if any of the following are true:

  • The damage caused by the crash equates to $1,000 or more.
  • Somebody was injured in the crash––even slightly.
  • Somebody was killed in the crash.

Modern vehicles are made from materials that can be expensive to purchase; even small fender bender accidents can result in more than $1,000 in damages. A single taillight or bumper can easily exceed this value. Just to be safe, it’s best to report the accident regardless of how much you think it will cost.

The actual process of reporting your car accident to the DMV is not that complicated. All you have to do is fill out Form SR-1, Report of a Traffic Accident Occurring in California. You can choose to fill out this form, have your insurance agent do it, or even delegate the task to a car accident lawyer. As long as you fill out this form within 10 days, you can do it online or in person at a local DMV office. 

What Is Form SR-1?

Form SR-1 is an official DMV document that residents must fill out as outlined in the California Vehicle Code §16000. The goal of SR-1 is to encourage honesty and transparency of relevant information after a car accident. You will need to include information about the drivers, the accident, applicable insurance, and the resulting damages.

CVC 16000 also requires you to disclose reportable off-highway accidents. These are accidents that don’t happen on a highway or street, involve state-registered vehicles, and result in injury, death, or expenses over $1,000.

In all qualifying cases, here is some of the info you will be required to fill out pertaining to the vehicle drivers:

  • Full names and addresses
  • Drivers’ license numbers
  • Dates of birth
  • Make, model, and VIN or plate number of vehicles

A DMV accident report also requires you to explain the setting of the accident with the following details:

  • The date the accident took place
  • The time the accident took place
  • The city, county, and specific location where the accident happened

In addition to these facts, you will need to provide all necessary information pertaining to your insurance and the other driver’s insurance. California drivers are required to have a minimum level of insurance coverage and therefore should have a policy in effect. 

Insurance information includes the following:

  • Insurance company name
  • Policy holder name
  • Policy number
  • Active period of policy
  • Whether or not policies were active at the time of the crash

Finally, when submitting SR-1 to the DMV, you must include a list of any injuries, deaths, or property damage related to the collision. This includes third parties who were impacted by the crash. 

Here is the information that must be provided about damages:

  • Names and addresses of victims
  • Their role (driver, pedestrian, passenger, etc.)
  • What type of harm they experienced 
  • The description and value of harm or damage they experienced

These details will provide valuable statistics for the DMV and act as a reference guide for any future claims you may make. If you are making a personal injury claim, your insurance company will likely handle this process for you. 

You can fill this form out in-person at a DMV near you or download Form SR-1 online

Not Filling Out Form SR-1?

If you do not complete the SR-1 form within 10 days of an accident, you can lose your license. Section 16004 of the California Vehicle Code gives the DMV power to suspend your driver’s license until you file an accident report. 

In addition to the suspension, you might also be unable to pursue further compensation. You may need to fill out Form SR-19C to request financial responsibility information from the other driver. However, you cannot submit Form SR-19C until you’ve completed your SR-1 and filed it with the CA DMV. This can prolong the amount of time you need to wait before recovering damages from the at-fault party. 

When to Report a Vehicle Accident in California

If there is any damage or injury from a car accident, you should report it. Even if it seems very minor at the beginning, it may later come back to bite you if you don’t say anything. 

How Long Do I Have to File a Car Accident Claim?

Although you must report an accident within 10 days, the California statute of limitations on car accidents permits you to file an injury claim for up to two years after the accident. If you are filing against a government entity or public agency, you must do so within six months of the accident. If you are seeking damages for property damage, you have up to three years from the date of the accident.

When it comes to pursuing compensation, the sooner the better. If you are capable of filing a claim, you should do so immediately. Witnesses will be more likely to remember what happened and the insurance company will see that you are concerned about the repercussions of the accident. If you delay for too long, you may not be able to recover any monetary damages.

Contacting a Car Accident Lawyer

Although the police may perform a thorough investigation, they are typically primarily concerned with the criminal aspects of a case. Insurance companies are more worried about the money, and may offer policies or benefits that do not fully cover expenses. Even if you feel that the first offer is adequate, there may be hidden costs or future expenses you are not considering. That is where a lawyer comes in.

A car accident lawyer can look at your car accident report and help you file a personal injury claim to recover compensation from the at-fault party. There are a variety of situations you may want to hire a lawyer for, including the following:

  • Your insurance company will not pay what you deserve.
  • The other driver has no insurance policy.
  • The other driver’s policy is not substantial enough to cover resulting damages
  • You don’t have the energy, experience, or time to bring a comprehensive claim against the liable driver.

A car accident attorney will join your team to negotiate with insurance adjusters, hospital billing departments, police investigators, and other parties to help ensure you receive full benefits. 

If your case goes past the settlement phase into court, your legal representative can help present your case to a jury with all of the necessary evidence. They will prove why the other party is at fault and show why you need the full amount of benefits. 

Our experienced attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Clark have the knowledge and skills to help you recover compensation in a California car accident. Fill out our online contact form as soon as possible to get started after reporting your accident.