How Long Do You Have to Report an Accident in California?

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If you have been involved in a car accident in California, you must report it to law enforcement, the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), and your insurance provider. It doesn’t matter if you were at fault or not, or if it was just a minor road incident or a major accident.

Reporting an accident shows you have nothing to hide and prevents penalties such as fines, higher insurance rates, jail time, and suspension of your driver’s license.

This guide from AttorneyJeff discusses how long you have to report a car accident in California to law enforcement, the DMV, and your insurer. With our car accident lawyers in California, we can help manage your claim in a timely manner.

How Soon Should You Report an Accident in California?

Ideally, one should report an accident immediately. Unfortunately, it’s not usually possible, especially when one has to seek medical attention after sustaining injuries. Nevertheless, you should report an accident as soon as possible.

According to California Vehicle Code Section 20008, if you have been involved in a traffic accident that has resulted in injuries or death, you have to report to the city’s police department or California Highway Patrol (CHP) within 24 hours from the time of the accident. It must be in written form.

If the agency you report to can’t handle the case, they will forward you to the proper authority. However, if you call the police to the scene of the accident, they will prepare the report on your behalf, so you don’t need to make another. If the driver cannot make the report for one reason or another, the responsibility of reporting falls on the passengers in the vehicle at the time of the accident.

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

California law requires you to report to the DMV if:

  • anyone was injured, no matter how minor the injuries,
  • anyone was killed,
  • the crash resulted in property damage of more than $1,000.

According to California Vehicle Code Section 16000, you must file within ten days of the accident date. Section 16002 says if the driver was in a company vehicle when the accident occurred, the relevant employee is supposed to report it within five days.

To report to the DMV, you must fill out an SR 1 form with the help of a legal representative. The SR 1 form can be found at CHP offices, DMV field offices and the DMV website. You have to file the SR 1 report whether you were at fault. If you don’t, you may lose your driving privilege.

If law enforcement reports to the DMV on your behalf, the collision will show up on your driving record unless the police officer reporting says you weren’t at fault. If you report it yourself, it will show on your driving record if anyone was injured or died or the property damage amounted to $1000 or more.

How Long Do You Have to Report a Car Accident to Insurance in California?

California doesn’t have a law that specifies whether and when you should report a car accident to your insurer or the other party’s insurer. Every insurance company follows different rules, so you must read the terms of your policy to see how long you have to report.

However, it would be best if you reported as soon as possible to give the insurer ample time to conduct comprehensive investigations. Unless you have been severely injured and cannot report to your insurance company, you should do it within 24 hours.

Reporting late could work against you, as the insurer may find it hard to make a connection between the property damages or injuries and the accident. Even if the California car accident was minor and you don’t consider it a “reportable accident”, you should report it to your insurer so that if you need coverage later down the road, they will provide it.

What Happens If You Don’t Report an Accident in California?

If you don’t report a car accident you were involved in, California law is very clear on the consequences. According to California Vehicle Code Section 16004, the DMV has the right to revoke your driving privileges until you make the report. Section 20001 outlines the following fines and sentences, which the court may impose:

  • If you fail to report an accident to the police, you face up to a year in jail, a fine of $1,000 and $10,000, or both.
  • If you fail to report an accident that involved serious injury or death, you face between two and four years in prison or 90 days in jail, a fine of between $1,000 and $10,000, or both.

You also face higher insurance rates if you fail to report to your insurance provider.

Contact a Car Accident Attorney in California

If you have been involved in a car accident in California and are unsure about the legal requirements and your rights, the car accident lawyers at AttorneyJeff can help. It doesn’t matter if it was a major collision or a minor fender bender; you should work with a car accident lawyer when there are damages involved.

Consult with AttorneyJeff’s legal team to better understand what is required of you. We are experienced in all areas of car accidents in California. We can help you navigate the complex legal process.

Contact us today for a no-obligation consultation.

Car Accident Case FAQs

How do I report a car accident in California if the other driver isn’t insured?

If the other party isn’t insured, you can file an uninsured motorist claim with your insurer, but you must prove the other driver was at fault.

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

No, it doesn’t. You or the other party should file the report to the insurance company

Should you call your insurance or the other driver’s first after an accident?

Call your insurance company first, and then notify the other driver’s insurance company to notify them of your intention to claim.

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