No one wants to be in a car accident. Accidents and their aftermath can be terribly stressful and can add to your financial burden. Knowing what to do after an accident—including whom you need to contact—can help you stay calm.
Most accidents involve exchanging information with other drivers, but do you also have to notify your local Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV)? Depending on the nature of the accident, you may have to file a crash report there.
Learn more about when and how to report an accident to the DMV.
What To Do After a Crash
Whether it’s a minor fender bender or a more serious crash, being in a car accident can leave you shaken. Be prepared in case you’re in an accident by learning the steps to take after a crash.
Ensure Everyone Is Safe
After a collision or accident, bring your car to a stop as quickly and safely as possible. Assess yourself, passengers, and others involved in the accident for injuries. Call 911 right away if there are serious injuries.
Assess the Damage
Use a cellphone or digital camera to take pictures of the scene of the accident from several angles. Be sure to get pictures of the environment surrounding the crash area, such as road signs, traffic signals, or buildings. If possible, move the cars to the side of the road to avoid blocking traffic or causing another accident.
Notify the Police
Call the police and notify them of the crash. If an officer is dispatched, wait for them to arrive and speak only to the officer.
Depending on the details of your accident, an officer may not be dispatched to the scene. However, you may still want to contact the police so they can decide if a police report is necessary.
Gather all of the important information related to the accident, involved drivers, and witnesses, including:
- The name, address, license plate number, driver’s license number, and telephone number of the other driver or drivers involved.
- The insurance information of the other drivers, including policy number and insurance company name.
- The names, addresses, and telephone numbers of any witnesses.
Be sure to double-check the spellings and numbers provided by the other driver or drivers so you don’t run into delays in your claim.
File an Insurance Claim
Notify your insurance agent or claims departments immediately after exchanging information or talking with the police to start the claims process. If the other driver is determined to be at fault for the accident, you will likely need to contact their insurance company as well.
File a State Accident Report, If Necessary
Depending on where you live and the severity of the accident, you may need to file an accident report with your DMV if the police were not involved. Check with your state DMV to determine if you need to file a report yourself.
When To Notify the DMV
Do you need to contact the DMV after an accident? That depends on your state and the nature of the accident.
Every state requires a crash report to be filed after an accident that meets the state’s criteria for such reporting. Because each state has its own laws and regulations, it’s best to check with the DMV of the state where the crash occurred to find out if you need to report your accident.
For example, drivers in Oregon have to file a DMV accident report within 72 hours of an accident if it involves any of the following:
- Vehicle damage over $2,500 (even for single-vehicle accidents)
- A vehicle being towed from the scene
- Injury or death resulting from the accident
- Property damage (besides vehicles) over $2,500
An Oregon DMV crash report is not the same as a police report. You’ll still have to report the crash, even if a police report is filed.
On the other hand, drivers in Wisconsin, as another example, don’t need to file their own DMV crash report if a police report is filed. You may also receive a letter from the state notifying you that you were in a reportable crash and must file a report. Reports are required—either from you or the police—in Wisconsin if the accident causes:
- An injury
- $1,000 or more in damage to a person’s property or vehicle
- $200 or more in damage to state or other government property (excluding vehicles)
Like Wisconsin, it’s common in several states—such as Florida and New Hampshire—for a police report to satisfy the crash reporting requirement. If you’re in a minor crash that doesn’t involve the police, you may need to self-report the accident to the state DMV if it meets reporting requirements for damage or injuries.
Laws vary among states and can change frequently. Contact your state DMV to find out the accident reporting requirements before you’re in an accident.
Fixing Your License
Even if you don’t have to file an accident report, you may have to contact the DMV if the accident affects your driver’s license.
For example, if you get caught driving without a license or with a suspended license, you could face fines and jail time. There’s also a good chance your license suspension will be extended. Another serious offense—driving while intoxicated—comes with similarly serious consequences. Common penalties for DUIs include revocation or suspension of your license and confiscation of your license plates or vehicle.
You’ll have to contact the DMV if you lose your license to suspension or revocation after an accident. The steps to reinstate your license will vary by state and the nature of your offenses, but could involve:
- Waiting for your suspension or revocation period to end
- Paying a reinstatement fee
- Providing proof of car insurance or financial responsibility
Failing to complete a required accident report in time could result in a suspended license.
Insurance Claims After a Crash
Police reports and DMV accident reports probably won’t get back to your insurance carrier. If your car needs repairs, you’ll need to make a separate insurance claim. Once your claim is opened, your insurance company will assign an adjuster, or claims representative. The adjuster looks at the evidence in the accident (such as pictures you took after the accident or police reports) to determine which driver is at fault for causing the accident.
An at-fault accident could add points to your insurance record and cause your premiums to go up. The points used by insurance companies are different from those applied to driver’s licenses by some states. If your state assigns points to your license for a violation or ticket, your insurance carrier may assign a different number of points.
Let’s say you cause an accident that didn’t involve any violations. No points are added to your driver’s license. However, your insurance company’s system adds a point to your record. Your insurance rates will likely increase, but you won’t need to contact the DMV in this case.
Even if you don’t get points applied to your license, remember you may have to file an accident report with your DMV if your crash involved injuries or damage above a certain amount.
The Bottom Line
The last thing you want to worry about after an accident is figuring out if you need to contact the DMV. While accident-reporting regulations vary by state, there’s a good chance you won’t need to self-report an accident, especially if the police file a report.
Be sure to check your local DMV laws to find out the requirements for self-reporting car accidents.