Do I Need to Report a Car Accident in California?

Many drivers who experience car accidents wonder if they need to involve the police. In the state of California, reporting a car accident is almost always required. If the accident caused any injury, no matter how slight, a death, or damage estimated to be more than $750 in repairs, the drivers involved need to report it to the police.

Steps After an Accident in California

Immediately following a car accident in California your first priorities should be to make sure your vehicle is completely stopped and then assess your injuries. If it is too painful to move, remain where you are and wait for the paramedics to arrive. Call 911 if you are able unless one of the other drivers involved tells you he or she has already contacted the police. Moving when injured can make an injury worse or cause secondary injuries, so wait for emergency medical responders to arrive and render aid instead of risking further injury by moving yourself.

If you feel well enough to move, assess the conditions of the other drivers involved and start taking photos of the accident scene as soon as you are sure the authorities are on their way. Try to take photos of the damage to all the vehicles involved, skid marks on the road, and the traffic signs and signals in the immediate vicinity. These photos will help investigators establish the cause of the crash and the liability of the drivers involved.

Talking to the Police

Once the police arrive they will take statements from everyone involved in the crash and any eyewitnesses in the area. Even if you know the accident was your fault, it is very important to choose your words carefully when speaking with the police. Seemingly harmless figures of speech like “I’m sorry,” or “I couldn’t see,” could lead to a higher degree of liability than you are rightfully due, and could complicate your ability to collect compensation through a personal injury claim against another driver. Investigators, police, and insurance claim adjusters will construe such expressions as admissions of fault.

When you speak with the police at the crash scene, answer all of their questions as completely and concisely as possible. If you don’t know the answer to a question, do not guess. Instead, inform the officer you are unsure of the answer and don’t want to provide a false response. Once the police finish their investigation, they will start cleaning up the accident site and let you know when you are free to go.

Failing to Report a California Car Accident

If you do not report an accident in California to the police when required to do so, you risk facing fines, license suspension, or even hit-and-run charges. Many drivers who get into small fender-benders with other drivers may agree to settle things outside of insurance claims and police involvement to save money and hassle, but this is only acceptable for accidents that cause very light damage (costing less than $750 to repair) and no injuries. If you are unsure whether or not you need to report an accident, it is always better to report it.