Do I Need to Report an Accident to the DMV?

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The Department of Motor Vehicles is responsible for so many parts of our lives, it's no wonder the lines are always so long. They test and retest drivers, register vehicles, assign license plates and collect the tax on car sales. They issue driver's licenses, enhanced licenses, REAL ID licenses and identification cards. They also must keep driving records, in many states, adding in points as a driver accumulates violations. And, they keep track of vehicle accidents.

Telling the DMV About It

Nobody likes to report an accident to the DMV. But in most states, it's a legal obligation in some cases. If you call the police, and they issue one of the drivers a ticket, that will be reported to the DMV. But even if the police are not called, the law in most states requires you to file a form with the DMV about the accident if someone was killed or injured or if the crash caused property damage over $1,000.

Variations on a Theme

California law is typical. It provides that if you are involved in a vehicle accident in the state, you must report it to the California DMV if:

  • Property damage from the accident exceeded $1,000
  • Someone was hurt, no matter how minor the injuries
  • Someone was killed

Each driver involved in the accident must file a form called Traffic Accident Report SR 1 with the DMV within 10 days. That means the person causing the accident and every other driver too must report it even if it did not occur on public property.

Similar laws exist in many states including New York. New Hampshire has the same requirements but you have 15 days to file the report. In Nevada, you have to file only if law enforcement was not called to the scene. In Oregon, you have to file a report if anyone died or was injured or if property damage to any one person's property exceeded $2,500 or if a car had to be towed away.

Reporting to the Insurance Company

The DMV is a government agency that regulates most of the aspects of driving in your state. On the other hand, your insurance company is not. Your relationship with your insurance company is governed by the terms of the contract you signed with it.

If you wish to make a claim for insurance coverage in the accident, you will obviously need to report the accident to your insurer. It will open a claim for you. You should make the report as soon as possible, being sure to be within whatever time period your insurer mandates. Many insurers have 24-hour a day hotlines for reporting claims.

If you have a small accident you do not intend to file an insurance claim over, there is no need to report it. Nor do you need to report damage for which you do not have coverage.

Tips

  • In most states, you must report an accident to the DMV within 10 days if someone was injured or if property damage exceeded $1,000.