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How to Report a Car Accident in California: The Ultimate Guide

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When you get into a car accident, making phone calls and filing paperwork may be the last on your mind. But reporting your accident may be required by law—and even if it isn’t, reporting your crash may be the best way to protect your rights.

Here at the PARRIS Law Firm, we’ve created the ultimate guide explaining how to report a car accident in California.

WHERE Do I Need to Report a Car Accident?

If reporting your crash is required, you’ll need to report a car accident in California to three different entities:

  • The police – either the California Highway Patrol (CHP), a county sheriff’s office, or a local police department.
  • The DMV
  • Your insurance company

Each of these organizations will have different time frames for reporting your accident.

WHEN Do I Need to Report a Car Accident?

You are required to report a car accident in California under the following circumstances:

  • Property damage to either vehicle (or objects inside the vehicle) exceeds $1000
  • Someone is injured, however minor, in the crash
  • Someone is killed
  • If any of the involved drivers do not have a license
  • If any of the drivers flee the scene (hit-and-run)
  • If any of the drivers are driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol

If no one is injured, damage is minimal, and all parties are present, properly licensed, and insured, the law may not require you to report your accident. However, filing a report with the police, the DMV, and your insurance carrier may still be the best way to protect your rights in case of a legal conflict down the line.

How to Report a Car Accident to the Police

How Long Do I Have to Report a Car Accident to the Police?

Under California law, any driver involved in a car accident resulting in death or injury must report their car accident to the police within 24 hours. It is illegal not to report an accident that occurred under these conditions. Neglecting to do so could result in fines, loss of driving privileges, and jail time.

Reporting Your Car Accident

You can report the car accident to the police department where the crash happened or to the California Highway Patrol (CHP). Calling 911 at the accident scene is the easiest way to do this. When law enforcement arrives at the location, they can take your information and create a car accident police report, which you can access in the days following the crash.

If no one is injured in the crash, but the other driver doesn’t have a license, isn’t adequately insured, or flees the scene, you can report the accident to the nearest police station using their non-emergency number. Again, the law gives you 24 hours to report your accident in these situations.

You can find a list of local police stations in California here. We’ve also provided some quick links for reaching local law enforcement:

If Damage Exceeds $1,000, You’ll Need To Report A Car Accident.

How to Get Your Police Report for a Car Accident

Obtaining a CHP Accident Report

If you file an accident report with the CHP, you should be able to access the document after a few days. You can get a copy of your report by going to your local CHP area office or requesting the document via mail using a CHP 190 Collision Request Form.

To get the CHP report for your car accident, you’ll need to provide the date and approximate location of the incident, the names of any other drivers involved, and your full name. If you choose to mail the form, you’ll also need to provide a photocopy of your driver’s license or state-issued ID. There will also be a $10 fee for processing, regardless of how you request the report.

Obtaining a Local Police Department Accident Report

If you file an accident report with a local police department, they will likely have their own request form process in place for obtaining car accident police reports. Most California police departments will require you to provide the same or similar information as the CHP for obtaining accident reports:

  • Your name
  • Names of all of the drivers involved
  • Date and location of the accident
  • Driver’s license or state-issued ID
  • Processing fees

Obtaining the police report for your car accident will be crucial to filing an insurance claim or personal injury lawsuit against the at-fault driver.

How to Report a Car Accident to the DMV

You, your insurance representative, or your attorney can report your accident to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) using an SR-1 form. This form is available to fill out online or to print and mail. The DMV recommends filling the form out online if possible for quicker processing. Failing to report a crash that meets these conditions is illegal and could result in a driver’s license suspension, penalties, and/or jail time.

How Long Do I Have to Report a Car Accident to the DMV?

California law requires that people report car accidents that cause death, injury (even minor), or property damage over $1000 to the DMV. The law gives you ten days to report your crash.

How to Report a Car Accident to Your Insurance Company

Finally, most insurance companies require you to report the accident to them, even if you were not at fault. Your insurance policy document will lay out the reporting procedure and required information, so you may need to review your policy. Most insurance carriers allow you to call their representatives directly or file a claim online or through an app.

It’s crucial to report the car accident to your insurance as soon as possible. Your insurance company will need to prepare a claim or discuss a claim with the at-fault driver’s insurance, and the faster they know about the collision, the faster it can be processed. If you don’t report the accident to your insurance company, you could miss out on collecting compensation to cover your vehicle repair costs and any medical bills.

Report Your Car Accident to Insurance: Helpful Links

If you need to file a car accident report with your insurance company, we’ve provided links to the claim forms of the most common insurers in California:

Why You Should Report a Car Accident in California

Reporting a car accident creates a record of the accident. Whether you report to the police, DMV, your insurance company, or all three, the record will include:

  • The location of the crash
  • All parties involved and their contact information
  • Witness contact information and possibly witness statements
  • An explanation of vehicle damage and injuries

If you do not report a car accident, there may be significantly less proof that the crash happened. If a dispute over fault or damages arises down the road, not having a record of the accident could give the at-fault driver’s insurance company an excuse to deny your claim.

Though reporting a minor collision that wasn’t your fault may seem unimportant, keeping an accurate and timely record of the crash is the surefire way to protect your rights in an unexpected legal battle.

Need Help After a Car Accident in California?

If a car accident has left you with injuries, PARRIS Law Firm can help you restore balance to your life. PARRIS lawyers have fearlessly fought for clients since 1985, securing more than $1.9 billion in verdicts and settlements. Our commitment to clients is unmatched—we’re here to fight for you.

Give us a call and schedule your free case review today.

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