Do I Have to File a Police Report for a Car Accident in California?

A car accident in California can upend your world.

Even a fender-bender can shake you up, leaving you confused about what to do next.

In the immediate aftermath of a car crash, filing an accident report is probably the last thing on your mind. Even if it does occur to you, you might wonder if it’s necessary.

Like many things in life, the answer is that it depends on the circumstances.

If the crash resulted in injury to you or injury or death to someone else, the law requires you to file both a police report and a report with the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).

In other cases, even when there’s been minimal damage, it may still be a good idea. Read on for tips and guidelines for dealing with reporting after a car accident.

When to Report a Car Accident in California

In California, the law requires drivers involved in car accidents that result in injury or death to file a written report within 24 hours with the police or California Highway Patrol (CHP).

If the driver of a vehicle involved in the accident is physically unable to report the accident, any occupants in the car at the time of the crash must report the accident on the driver’s behalf.

Legally, if you are in a car accident where someone is injured or killed—or a party’s property damage exceeds $1000—you must also complete an SR1 report and send it to the DMV within 10 days.

This is in addition to any reports made to an insurance company. California requires an SR1 form whether you caused the accident or not. And the reporting requirement applies even if the accident happened on private property.

If for some reason, you cannot file an SR1 report, your insurance agent, broker, or legal representative may do it for you. If you do not complete an SR1 form, California will suspend your driving privileges.  

You should also report a crash to the police or CHP if:

  • Any of the drivers involved in the crash were driving without a license, and
  • Any of the drivers involved in the collision were operating while intoxicated by drugs or alcohol.

Even in minor accidents where a police report isn’t required, it’s a good idea to report your crash if you plan to recover any damages from an insurance company.

How to Report a Car Accident in California

First, if anyone in the crash was injured or intoxicated, report the accident by calling 911. After reaching the police, remember to file a police report within 24 hours of your accident.

If you are unsure how to file, contact your local police department’s non-emergency number. A department member can guide you and help you locate any necessary forms online or in person.

After you’ve filed your police report, don’t forget to file an SR1 report if your accident meets the reporting requirement noted above. You must file the report at the DMV within 10 days of your accident.

The California DMV SR1 reporting page will provide a form and walk you through how to fill it out and file it with the state.

If there are no injuries, but the other driver does not have a driver’s license or flees the scene, call your nearest police station via the station’s non-emergency contact number or your local police department’s helpline.

You may also choose to call 911 or your local police department and file a report even when it is not required.

If an officer reports to the scene and subsequently files a police report, obtain a copy as soon as possible. A report can be essential if you seek damages from an insurance company.

What Should I Do in a Car Accident?

If you are involved in a car accident, you should first stop and park your car out of the way of traffic if that is possible.

You could be convicted of a “hit and run” if you don’t stop. Next, if someone was injured or your car is inoperable, call 9-1-1 immediately to report the collision.

If your vehicle is inoperable, you will also want to call your insurance company or a towing company to transport your vehicle to the appropriate auto shop.

Next, if you are unharmed and it’s safe to exchange information with the other parties involved, do so.

Important information you should trade and gather from other parties includes:

  • Driver licenses,
  • Vehicle registration cards,
  • Insurance company names and policy numbers, and
  • Current addresses and phone numbers.

You will also want to make sure to do the following if you can:

  • Take note of the date and time of the accident,
  • Take note of the location of the accident,
  • Take pictures of all property damage and the accident site, and
  • Take a photo of or note the other vehicle’s license plate number and state.

Afterward, if you suspect you’ve been injured, seek medical help. Even if you believe you only suffered minor injuries, a medical professional should evaluate you.

Major injuries aren’t always symptomatic, so it’s best to leave it to a medical professional to give you a clean bill of health.

Furthermore, if you did suffer an injury, visiting a medical professional will provide you with documentation to support your petition if you decide to file an insurance claim or pursue a lawsuit.

After you’ve taken care of your health, contact an experienced car crash lawyer. A skilled lawyer can review your accident and the evidence, deal with insurance companies, and advise you of your next best steps.

Call Henderson Law Today

Attorney Michael Henderson’s decades of experience and knowledge have helped numerous people who’ve suffered a loss due to accidents, injuries, and death.

His dedication and car accident expertise has resulted in tens of millions of dollars of settlements and verdicts for his clients.

If you are at a crisis point after a car accident, attorney Michael Henderson and our personal injury attorney of Henderson Law will make it their mission to fight for the justice and fair compensation you deserve. Call Henderson Law today for a free consultation.