Do I Need to Report a Car Accident to the DMV?

Two damage cars after accident
••• Eric Van Den Brulle/ Stone/ Getty Images

Car accidents aren't fun for anyone. Accidents and their aftermath can be overwhelmingly stressful for those involved, not to mention the financial burden. Knowing what to do and what to expect can bring the stress levels down significantly. 

You may be wondering if one of the things you need to do is report the car accident directly to the department of motor vehicles (DMV). Thankfully, contacting the DMV is one post-accident task you will probably not need to do. However, if something is wrong with your license or your paperwork is not in order for some other reason, you may have to involve the DMV.

What to Do After a Crash

If you've been involved in a car accident, there is a mental checklist you can run through to remind yourself of what to do at the scene of a crash. First, seek to ensure that everyone involved is safe and unharmed. Document any injuries that aren't significant enough to require immediate medical treatment. If anyone is badly hurt, dial 911.

After assessing the people involved, assess the cars involved. If all cars will be able to drive away from the scene, document any damage to the cars involved before leaving.

Collect as much information as you can about the scene and everyone involved, then contact the police to file a report. Documenting the event is especially important if you're involved in an at-fault accident. Documentation will help prove that the person declared "at-fault" is actually the one to blame.

The Insurance Information Institute suggests getting the badge number and name of police officers at the scene. You can also ask them where you can find a copy of the police report on your incident.

Lastly, if you're going to file a claim with your insurance, you'll want to get the claims process started as soon as you file your police report.

The DMV's Role in an Average Crash

The DMV keeps track of your driving record and related materials, including licenses, license plates, and titles. For most people, the only reason the DMV would need to be contacted after a crash is if there's something wrong with one of these documents.

After a car accident, the police are typically called by at least one of the parties involved (or a bystander). An officer will then come out and assess the situation. As a part of that assessment, the officer may determine who is at fault, and they may issue citations or tickets.

If a ticket is issued—such as when the crash is caused by speeding, failure to yield, or another traffic violation—the police will notify the DMV. The infraction will be noted on the record of the at-fault driver.

When You Need to Contact the DMV

If the police officer notices a more serious infraction, it may cause significant complications for your driving record. As a result, you might need to contact the DMV to set your record straight.

For example, if you were found to be driving without proof of insurance or with an expired license, your license will likely become suspended or revoked. Similarly, an accident that involved intoxicated driving will result in serious penalties that affect your ability to drive.

The steps to reinstate your license depend on where you live and why your license was suspended or revoked in the first place. However, every scenario will involve contact with the DMV.

In the case of an insurance issue, you may just have to provide the DMV with paperwork proving that you've acquired the appropriate insurance coverage, and then the DMV will put your driver's license back in good standing. For the most serious issues, like intoxicated driving, you may have to go to court, take classes, and wait for a suspension period to pass before asking the DMV to reinstate your license.

Insurance Claims Are a Separate Issue

While the police report will automatically contact the DMV, it won't necessarily reach your insurance company—at least not right away. If you want to make a claim on your insurance, you've got to reach out to your insurance provider. The insurance carrier will then review evidence from the scene and mark the claim as "at-fault" or "not-at-fault."

These claims affect your car insurance points, but it won't affect any point systems related to the DMV. The points on these systems are not always calculated in the same way. The consequences are different, as well. Points on your driving record could add up to an eventual suspended or revoked license. Points on your insurance record usually just affect your rates. In extreme cases, insurance record points could cause you to lose your policy, but your license won't be affected, so there's no need to contact the DMV.

When Police Are Not Called to the Accident

If no police are called out to the accident, still there is no reason to contact the DMV. If you are the not-at-fault party, and you want the accident filed, you need to call the police.

Single car accidents or minor car accidents with no injuries often go unreported. No ticket is issued and the DMV will not be notified—there's no reason to notify them if your driving record isn't affected.

Filing a claim with your insurance company may not even be necessary if you do not have the proper coverage or if the damage is less than your deductible. A claim filed for a single-car accident is almost always considered to be at-fault, and you will probably see a surcharge at your next policy renewal.

When in doubt, check with your insurance agent about what to do after an accident.