When you are involved in a car accident, you must know what needs to be done next to report the incident properly. Depending on which state you are in, different rules may apply. All states require you to report most vehicle accidents, according to their specific regulations. Be an informed driver; learn the rules that apply in your home state and in states you are traveling through before you have an accident.
Variables by State
Each state has its own rules about vehicle accidents, what to report and when you must report. Here are the two major variables your will find:
- Fault – States either are “Fault” or “No Fault” when it comes to responsibility and making claims for fair compensation. If fault is determined and reported, that will go onto that driver’s record. This will most likely increase future costs for insurance. Fault is primarily a concern for insurance companies, because it determines risk and who will pay for damages. If you are in a “fault” state, you can file your claim with your own insurance company or the at-fault driver’s insurance company. You also can have your attorney file a personal injury lawsuit against that driver.
- No Fault – If your state is a no fault car insurance state, a person who was injured or has damage claims must get payment from their insurance company. It does not matter who is at “fault” as determined by the police report. In a no fault situation, you may be able to settle matters faster, but you still will benefit more when you have an experienced car accident attorney representing your best interests. They will fight to get you maximum compensation, whereas insurance companies only want to pay out minimums, at most.
Steps to Take when Reporting a Car Accident
After you have determined what, if any, injuries have occurred, and if medical attention is needed, your next step is to report the accident properly. This will vary slightly from state to state, but the basic requirements are similar everywhere.
There are several steps to take in reporting a car accident in any region of the United States:
- Call 911 – This is how you can get through to the police and/or medical help. If someone is injured, they need immediate attention.
- Assess the Situation – Make sure everyone is safely away from the road, and move the cars, if possible, off the road. Set out warning signals and use your vehicle flashers to alert oncoming traffic of the danger. Take photos of damage for your insurance company and any possible legal action.
- Notify Owners – If you hit a parked car or damaged someone’s property and the owner is not around, be sure to leave a note with your contact information and a short explanation of what happened. You should be able to track them down by taking their license plate number, car description and/or property location. If you are not the owner of the car you are driving and you damage another vehicle or property, also leave owner information on your note in addition to your own contact information.
- Animal Injuries – If you hit and injure an animal, do not just leave the scene. You are responsible for making sure that animal is cared for. Contact the police or highway patrol, animal control or the owner listed on animal identity tags. Do this even if you killed the animal and have no damage to your vehicle or injuries to occupants.
- Identification – Get your identification papers ready to show to police for their report, and for the other driver to use in their report to their insurance company. Exchange this information with all others who are involved in the accident. Show driver license with your current address, registration card, proof of insurance and policy number.
- Gather Information – Make sure you have a record of the place and time of the accident, the name, address, date of birth and driver license information for all involved drivers, license plate numbers and states, and everyone’s insurance policy numbers and company names with expiration dates. You will need the vehicle owner’s name and address and an explanation of any injuries or property damage.
- Time Limits – Each state has its own statute of limitations for reporting vehicle accidents. In California, you have 10 days to file your report with the DMV for any vehicle accident where someone is injured or killed, and when damage is above $750. If you fail to do this, you could lose your driver’s license. California Form SR-1 is required; it can be filed by you, your insurance agent or your legal representative. This is required in addition to any other papers your insurance company may require and you need to do this even if the accident was on private property or caused by someone else.
- Remove Damaged Vehicles – If vehicles can be driven safely, take them away from the scene to a location where they can be further assessed for hidden damage. If needed, call a tow truck to haul away damaged vehicles. Do this as soon as possible; if you leave your vehicle unattended, the state may haul it away and impound it.
Getting into a vehicle accident only takes a fraction of a second, but the aftermath can be long-lasting. Knowing what to do and how to report a car accident is essential information every driver should know in advance. If you fail to follow state regulations for accident reporting, you could have your license suspended or revoked. You also could face criminal charges if you leave the scene of an injury accident.
Be prepared and stay calm. Know what to do and make your report promptly. Get your vehicle repaired or replaced, so you can again go out and enjoy the pleasures of driving.