How Long Do You Have To Report a Car Accident?

Know how quickly you need to contact your insurer after a crash

A driver calls their insurance company from the scene of an accident.
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energyy / Getyy Images

After a car accident, you’re often faced with a seemingly daunting set of responsibilities. You have to document the damage to your vehicle, and you may need to file a police report. You also need to notify your insurance company. But when and how to report a collision isn’t always cut and dried. Here’s what you need to know so you can meet your responsibilities after an accident.

Key Takeaways

  • Your insurer or your state’s insurance code may dictate how quickly you need to report an accident.
  • Local and state laws may require you to file an accident report with law enforcement.
  • Always report an accident that caused injuries or significant damage to your insurance provider.
  • You may not need to report a minor fender bender to your insurance carrier if the other driver is insured and accepts responsibility.
  • After an accident, always document damage and injuries, and ask witnesses for their contact information.

How Long Do You Have To Report a Car Accident?

Following a crash, you should contact your insurance company as soon as possible. Some insurers suggest contacting them from the scene of the collision. That’s not always possible, especially if the accident causes injuries. However, it’s best to contact your insurer as quickly as is practical, while the details are fresh in your memory. In some cases, insurance providers impose time limits on reporting accidents, so ask your agent or check your policy for details.

Your state’s insurance code may also dictate how quickly you must report an accident. For example, New York is a “no-fault” state, which means motorists must carry personal injury protection (PIP), a type of coverage that pays your and your passengers’ medical expenses, regardless of who is at fault for an accident. PIP won’t pay to repair your vehicle or another driver’s car. However, if anyone sustains injuries in a collision, New York’s no-fault law requires you to file a PIP claim within 30 days of the accident. If you’re not sure about the rules in your state, research its car insurance regulations or contact your insurance agent to find out.

When You Might Not Need To Report an Accident

Minor fender benders happen frequently. If another driver is at fault for a fender bender, accepts responsibility, and gives you their contact and insurance company information, you may not need to notify your insurance company, but you will need to contact the other driver’s insurer to file a claim for damage to your automobile. However, if you are at fault, or if the accident caused any injuries, you’ll need to contact your insurer as soon as possible to tell your side of the story.

Keep in mind that not reporting an accident to your insurance company may lead to unexpected consequences. For example, if another driver is at fault for a fender bender and agrees to pay for damages to your car out of pocket, they might not follow through. Also make sure you understand the reporting requirements mandated by your car loan or lease agreement, if applicable, and the terms and conditions of your auto insurance policy.

Some attorneys advise that the only time you don’t need to contact your insurer is when an accident happens on your property, doesn’t involve another person’s car or other property, and causes little damage and no injuries.

Reporting a Car Accident vs. Filing an Insurance Claim

Reporting an accident to an insurer isn’t the same as filing a claim. Providers encourage you to report all accidents, but you can only file a claim if you have the coverages you need to help pay for repairs or cover medical costs, such as collision insurance or medical payments coverage. Even so, the reporting and claims processes require some of the same elements.

What you need To report an accident To file a claim
Photos of the scene and any damage Maybe Yes
Contact info for the other driver(s) and witnesses Maybe Yes
A DMV or police report Maybe Yes, when available
A claim form No Yes

Photos of the Scene and Any Damage

Whenever you’re involved in a traffic accident, document the scene and vehicles involved. Make note of the exact time and location of the crash, as well as weather conditions and any other relevant information about the scene. Take pictures of all damage to vehicles and other property. You may not need to submit the photos when you report an accident, but they’ll be required if you file a claim.

Contact Info for Other Driver(s) and Witnesses

Exchange information with other drivers, including contact information, insurance company names and policy numbers, makes and models of automobiles, and driver’s license numbers. If bystanders witnessed the accident, ask for their contact information so the police or an insurance claims representative can request their statements. An insurance company may not need this information if you only want to report an accident, but if you file a claim, you’ll need to submit it.

A DMV or Police Report

Some local and state laws dictate when you must file an accident report with your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) or a police department. If a police officer responds to the scene of an accident and files a report, the insurance company will likely request a copy of it when you file a claim. If you only report an accident, the insurer may or may not request a police report.

A Claim Form

Claim processes vary by provider. Some companies take accident claims online, over the phone, or through a mobile app. In general, filing a claim requires more information than simply reporting an accident. You’ll also need to make sure you have the type of coverage relevant to your claim. For example, to file a claim for damage to your car from an accident, you’ll need collision coverage.

When You Need To Notify the DMV or Police

State and local laws dictate when you must report a car accident to a local police department or your state’s department of motor vehicles. For example, California law requires drivers to report crashes to the DMV within 10 days of an accident involving injuries or automobile damage of more than $750. People who don’t comply can face a driver’s license suspension.

In Denver, Colorado, law enforcement only responds to car accidents under certain circumstances:

  • Hit-and-run incidents
  • Crashes that involve injuries or fatalities
  • Collisions that obstruct a street or damage public property
  • Accidents involving drivers who are intoxicated or don’t hold a valid driver’s license
  • Accidents involving city employees

Even if a police officer doesn’t respond to a crash, drivers are required to file an accident report by calling 911 or visiting a local police station.

Oregon law requires drivers to file a report with the DMV within 72 hours of accidents that cause fatalities or injuries, require a vehicle to be towed from the scene, or cause damage to vehicles or other property that exceeds $2,500.

All drivers should know their local and state DMV and police reporting requirements before they get behind the wheel. Even if you’re involved in a minor crash, most major auto insurance companies recommend contacting the police from the scene of the accident. A police report taken by an officer at the scene of a collision will help your insurer investigate any claim you might file.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What happens when you don’t file a report for a car accident?

Some state laws require you to file an accident report with the DMV or police department following a crash. If you don’t comply, you could face consequences such as a suspended driver’s license.

How do you report an accident?

The process for reporting a traffic accident differs based on your location. In some places, you can report a collision by calling 911 or manually filling out an accident report at a police station. Some states also offer online accident report forms, which you can download and mail to the appropriate government department. A few states provide an online collision reporting system, which you can submit from the convenience of your home.

How do you get an accident report?

The steps to request an accident report vary by state. Depending where you live, accident reports may be issued by state departments of transportation, DMVs, or police agencies. Many states enable you to order an accident report online, usually for a fee.