Most people think that automobile accidents are occurrences that happen to others, not to themselves. But it's entirely possible for any driver to get involved in an accident one day, whether due to her own fault, the fault of another driver or just bad luck or bad weather. That's exactly why every driver wears a seat belt, carries insurance and reads up on how to file an accident report. Just. In. Case.
Automobile Accidents and Their Causes
Nobody starts her day with the intention of getting into a car accident, and it is rare that a driver has a lot of warning. Car accidents can occur within the blink of an eye: a car swerves from one lane into another, a truck doesn't brake in time or a motorcycle legally lane splitting is hit by an inattentive driver.
A driver's best bet for avoiding serious injury in an accident, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, is to use the seat belt. For young children, the equivalent is using legally mandated child safety restraints that can save lives in every type of collision.
Accident Reporting Requirement
If a driver finds himself in an accident, his first concern must be the welfare of anyone who is injured including himself, his passengers or other drivers and their passengers. If there are injuries, he should call emergency services to send an ambulance. In serious crashes, the driver should summon the police – even if nobody appears to be hurt – to get a police report.
After the accident is cleared, the driver must determine whether he needs to file an accident report with the state Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) or similar agency. All states require notice to the DMV in certain situations.
State Reporting Laws
Since state laws differ, a driver needs to know or learn the rules in her own state about when and how to report accidents. Most states require that drivers report accidents that involve death, personal injuries or a minimum amount of property damages.
In California, for example, a driver has a legal duty to report a car accident to the California Department of Motor Vehicles if certain criteria are met. The report must be filed within 10 days of an accident if the accident:
- Caused property damage greater than $1,000.
- Caused any bodily injury.
- Caused a person's death.
In New York, drivers must report an accident within 10 days if property damage to any one of the vehicles exceeded $1,000 or anyone suffered injury or death.
In Oregon, a driver must file a report with the DMV within 72 hours if:
- Any single vehicle incurred damage exceeding $2,500, even if the accident was a solo crash.
- Any vehicle is towed from the scene.
- Any injury or death resulted from the accident.
- The accident caused damages to property other than a vehicle of more than $2,500.
Filing the Accident Report
Each state has its own procedure for filing a report and for what it must contain. Most states offer accident report forms for drivers to use in that state. Online filing is the easiest way to meet this responsibility, but some states do not offer that option. A driver in those states will have to obtain the form, fill it in and bring it or mail it to the DMV.
The specific information a form requires also varies among states. Most accident report forms require a driver to include the specifics of the accident like time, place, identification of all parties, vehicle and insurance information for all parties, driver license number, license plates, an explanation of any injuries and similar details.
Read More: Do I Need to Report an Accident to the DMV?
Teo Spengler earned a JD from U.C. Berkeley Law School. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an MA and an MFA in English/writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Her work has appeared in numerous online publications including USA Today, Legal Zoom, eHow Business, Livestrong, SF Gate, Go Banking Rates, Arizona Central, Houston Chronicle, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pearson, Quicken.com, TurboTax.com, and numerous attorney websites. Spengler splits her time between the French Basque Country and Northern California.