Do Minor Vehicle Accidents Need to Be Reported?

Find out when you're legally or contractually obligated to report a car accident.

Updated by , J.D. · University of San Francisco School of Law

Some of the most common car accidents are minor "fender benders" that don't typically involve injuries. Here's what to know at the outset:

  • Minor traffic accidents can happen anywhere—in parking lots, at stop lights, and in stop-and-go traffic on freeways. Whenever and wherever they happen, it's important to take the right steps after a minor car crash.
  • Your state's laws determine when and how you need to report a car accident (even a seemingly minor one) to law enforcement or other government authorities.
  • You're almost always required to report any traffic accident to your car insurance company, whether or not you end up making a claim under your coverage.

What to Do After a Minor Car Accident

Even when a car accident seems to be minor, with no apparent injuries and little in the way of visible vehicle damage, it's still important to take a few key steps, including:

  • exchange contact information, insurance coverage details, and driver's license information with anyone else involved in the accident
  • take pictures of vehicle damage, the position of the vehicles, the location of traffic signals and signage, and anything else that might be relevant to the accident and how it happened
  • call local law enforcement (on a non-emergency number) to see if an officer can be sent to the scene so that a police report can be prepared, and
  • watch what you say to anyone at the scene.

Get more details on what to do after a car accident.

Do You Need to Report the Accident to Law Enforcement or DMV?

The answer to this question depends in large part on:

  • the facts and circumstances of the particular accident, and
  • the state in which the crash happened.

Many states require you to report any accident that involves an injury. Even for accidents involving only vehicle damage, some states still require drivers to report the accident if the damage is over a certain amount, typically $1,000 or $2,500.

Depending on the law in your state and the location of the accident, a report may need to be made to:

  • the municipal police department
  • county sheriff
  • highway patrol
  • state police, or
  • the department of motor vehicles (or a similar agency).

For example, in California, drivers of any vehicle involved in a car accident must make a written report of the crash to the California Highway Patrol or local police within 24 hours, if the crash resulted in injuries or death. And the accident must be reported to the California DMV within ten days if any injuries or death resulted, or if the crash caused more than $1,000 in property damage.

Reporting an Accident to your Insurance Company

People who are involved in minor collisions often try to avoid reporting these types of accidents to their car insurance companies for two reasons:

  • the driver assumes that their insurance rates will increase, and/or
  • the driver assumes that things can just be "worked out" with the other driver without involving the insurance companies.

It's important to understand that every single automobile insurance policy in the country requires policyholders to immediately report any accident in which they are involved when the incident could trigger coverage. Failing to report an accident to your insurance company may result in:

Is It Ever Okay to Not Report an Accident to Your Car Insurance Company?

The only time it might be reasonable to avoid reporting an accident to the insurance company is:

  • when the accident happened in your own vehicle and on your own property
  • no injuries resulted, and
  • the only resulting property damage is to property you own.

For example, let's say you backed your truck into your sedan in your driveway, but the damage was minor, and the sedan is over ten years old. In that situation there's no dispute with another person about fault for the accident, and no possibility of a dispute about the cost of repairs. (It's not like hitting a parked car that's owned by someone else, in other words.) This is all assuming you have no intention of making an insurance claim for damage to the sedan.

Learn more about contacting your car insurance company after a car accident.

What If the Other Driver Agreed to Not File a Claim for the Minor Accident?

Let's say you agree with the other driver at the accident scene that you'll just "work things out" and not file insurance claims. What happens if the other driver gets home and realizes the damage was more severe than she first believed? Or, maybe any injuries don't become apparent until days or weeks after the accident?

If, after several weeks or months the other driver makes a claim for unnoticed vehicle damage, or for injuries that have cropped up, your insurance company might deny certain protection to you because you failed to promptly report the accident. So, your attempt to avoid a possible increase in your insurance premiums may result in even greater monetary losses down the road.

Should I File a Claim After a Minor Car Accident?

When it comes to vehicle damage after a minor car accident, if the other driver is clearly at fault, their insurance company has accepted responsibility, and you can file claim directly with their insurer (called a "third party car insurance claim"), it usually makes sense to do so.

The only time it probably doesn't make sense to file an insurance claim for vehicle damage after an accident is when:

  • your only option is filing a claim under your own collision coverage (you can't make a claim with the other driver's insurer, in other words), and
  • the amount you'd recover for your vehicle damage is less than or around as much as the deductible you'd need to pay as part of the claim process.

In some instances your own insurance company might turn around and recover money from the other driver's insurer (if the other driver is at fault for the accident), and they might also recover your deductible for you. But this kind of action (called "subrogation") isn't usually guaranteed.

Getting Help After a Car Accident

If your car accident was truly minor, and you're comfortable doing so, it's probably safe to handle your car accident claim on your own. But if things get more complicated than they initially seemed, it might make sense to discuss your situation with an experienced legal professional. Learn more about how a lawyer can help with a car accident claim.

Make the Most of Your Claim
Get the compensation you deserve.
We've helped 215 clients find attorneys today.
There was a problem with the submission. Please refresh the page and try again
Full Name is required
Email is required
Please enter a valid Email
Phone Number is required
Please enter a valid Phone Number
Zip Code is required
Please add a valid Zip Code
Please enter a valid Case Description
Description is required

How It Works

  1. Briefly tell us about your case
  2. Provide your contact information
  3. Choose attorneys to contact you