California’s Car Accident Reporting Laws

Being in a car accident can cause a great deal of stress. When you know what you need to do after an accident, you may feel less stress about the entire experience. 

Understanding the laws regarding your obligations, such as reporting the crash, can help you make sure you meet all legal requirements. If you need help understanding your legal requirements after a collision, you may want to work with a car accident lawyer after the crash.  

The state of California has four primary laws in place regarding the reporting of car accidents:

  • CVC § 20008: This is the main reporting requirement law. If an accident results in injury or death, the driver must report it and file a written report to the CHP or local police within 24 hours. If a police officer responds to the accident, they will file the report.
  • CVC § 20010: If the driver is unable to make a report, the responsibility falls on any passengers who are in the vehicle at the time.
  • CVC § 16000: Any accident that results in injury, death, or damage to property over $1,000 must be reported to the DMV within 10 days.
  • CVC § 16002: If the driver was in a company vehicle when the accident occurred, the relevant employee must report it within five days.

Is it illegal not to report a car accident in California?

If the accident involved bodily injury, death, or property damage over $1,000, you are legally required to make a report. Given the relatively low threshold for property damage, this will apply to most accidents.

How long do you have to report a car accident in California?

The length of time you have to report depends on the conditions of the accident and who receives the report.

For accidents involving bodily injury or death, a report must be made to CHP or local police within 24 hours and the DMV within 10 days. For accidents that involve property damage over $1,000, you must file a report with the DMV within 10 days.

How to File a Police Report for a Car Accident in California

You may want to call 911 after the accident to have an officer respond to the scene. The responding officer will then file a report for you. If emergency services do not respond to the scene, you can call CHP or your local police station to make the report yourself.

How to File a Car Accident Report to the DMV in California

The DMV requires that accidents be filed using the SR-1 Accident Reporting Form. The California DMV website allows you to fill out the form and submit it online. You can also download a copy to deliver in person. Alternatively, your insurance company may file the report on your behalf.

What happens if I don't report a car accident?

Two sections of California’s legal code describe the penalties for failing to report an accident when required by law. CVC § 16004 grants the DMV the right to revoke your driving privileges until you make the report. CVC § 20001 outlines the sentencing and fines a court may impose:
  • Failure to Report an Accident to the Police: Up to a year in jail, a fine of between $1,000 and $10,000, or both
  • Failure to Report an Accident Involving Death or Serious Injury: Two to four years in prison or 90 days to a year in jail, a fine of $1,000 to $10,000, or both

Do I have to report a car accident to my insurance company in California?

There is no legal requirement in the state of California to report an accident to an insurance agency. However, your insurance policy may have a requirement that you do so. If your policy explicitly states that reporting an accident is required, your insurer may be able to deny you coverage in the event of an accident.

Does a police report for a car accident automatically get sent to the insurance company?

The responding officer’s only job is to record the facts of what happened. Typically, one of the two parties involved then gives the police report to the insurance company. While the police report may contain the officer’s opinion on who is at fault, that is considered an opinion and is not legally binding.

How do I find a police report for a car accident in California?

If the police respond to the scene of an accident, they will give you a copy of the report for your records. If you lose your copy or report the accident in some other way, you can request a copy of the report from the police station by providing the following information:
  • Accident identification number
  • Date, time, and location of the accident
If the accident went through an insurance company, they will likely also have a copy of the police report they can share with you.

Contact Cutter Law P.C. if you Have Questions After a Car Accident

If you’ve been in an accident and are unsure of your legal rights or the legal requirements expected of you, the car accident lawyers at Cutter Law P.C. can help. Our legal team will answer your questions and work with you to build your claim and better understand all legal requirements after a crash. Contact us today< for more information about a free case review.

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Sacramento, CA 95864
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Oakland, CA 94612

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