Generally, if the car accident produced injuries or significant property damage, a police report has to be filed within a day if the police did not already produce one at the scene of the accident. Drivers may have longer to file an accident report with their state’s DMV. Failing to timely file these can lead to a driver’s license suspension or worse.
How long after a car accident can I file a police report?
Drivers involved in a crash that caused an injury, a fatality, or significant property damage usually have to file a police report immediately after the accident.
In California, for example, drivers who have been in a crash that caused injuries or a fatality only have 24 hours to file a written report with the California Highway Patrol, or with the local police department.1
If the driver is incapacitated from the crash, a vehicle occupant can do it on the driver’s behalf.2
If a police officer responds to the crash and creates a report of the incident, then drivers do not need to file their own. However, drivers may still have to file an accident report.
What is the difference between a police report and an accident report?
A police report is different from an accident report.
The police report is often prepared by law enforcement at the scene of the accident. If it is not prepared on the scene, the driver may be legally obligated to contact the police and report the accident so an officer can prepare a police report.
An accident report goes to the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), rather than to law enforcement. Drivers can often access the appropriate form online. Once they have filled it out with details of the accident, they return it to the DMV.
Drivers generally have a longer time period to file an accident report than a police report.
In California, for example, drivers have 10 days to file an accident report with the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) if the crash:
- injured or killed someone, or
- caused more than $1,000 in property damage to a single accident victim.3
Drivers can make this crash report using the SR-1 Form. Any of the following people can file the accident report:
- the driver,
- the driver’s insurance agent or broker, or
- the driver’s personal injury lawyer.
The Form includes the following types of information:
- the date and time of the accident,
- where the accident occurred,
- information about the parties involved in the crash, including their:
- phone number and other contact information,
- driver’s license number, and
- insurance provider;
- names and addresses of anyone who was killed or hurt in the accident,
- names and addresses of anyone who suffered property damage, and
- the insurance information of the person filing the SR-1 Form.
The Form is then mailed to:
Department of Motor Vehicles
P.O. Box 942884
Sacramento, CA 94284
What are the consequences of not filing a report on time?
Drivers who fail to make a police report or an accident report on time are subject to a license suspension. If the accident was severe, there may be criminal penalties, as well.
In California, the license suspension lasts until the missing report is filed.4
However, California state law imposes criminal penalties if the accident was a fatal one and no report was filed. In these accidents, if no police officer shows up, drivers have a legal obligation to immediately report the accident to the California Highway Patrol or a local police station.5 Failure to do so is a wobbler offense that carries between:
- 90 days and 4 years in confinement, and/or
- $1,000 and $10,000 in fines.6
Are there times when a report is not necessary?
Generally, a police report is only necessary if the car accident hurt or killed someone. Drivers only have to send an accident report to the DMV if the crash caused:
- a fatality,
- a physical injury, or
- at least $1,000 in property damage to a single person.
This is the case in California.7
Practically speaking, this means that nearly all accidents have to be reported to the DMV. Repairing vehicles is expensive, and even minor accidents like fender benders can end up costing more than $1,000. Additionally, an accident report has to be submitted if there was any physical injury. They do not have to be serious injuries. Even minor injuries suffice.
If there is any doubt as to whether it was a reportable accident, the motorist should generally err on the side of caution and report it to the DMV and a law enforcement officer.
Do I also have to report the accident to my insurance company?
Drivers will also have to report the car crash to their auto insurance company. The details for reporting the auto accident will usually be covered in the insurance policy. Doing so quickly can ensure that any subsequent insurance claim is not denied by the car insurance company’s adjuster.
If the owner of the vehicle is having difficulty with the injury claims process, he or she should consider hiring a personal injury attorney from a reputable law firm for legal advice.
If you suffered injuries in a car crash, we invite you to contact our California auto accident attorneys for help and legal advice.
- California Vehicle Code 20008(a) VC.
- California Vehicle Code 20010 VC.
- California Vehicle Code 16000(a) VC.
- California Vehicle Code 16004 VC.
- California Vehicle Code 20004 VC.
- California Vehicle Code 20001(b)(2) VC.
- California Vehicle Code 16000(a) and 20008(a) VC.