If you’re involved in a car accident, your first inclination may be to call the police department. A police report can definitely make the claims process go more smoothly, and the state does require you to report any accidents you are involved in. You may not realize that not every accident needs a police report, however. How do you determine when to file a report, and who do you report an accident to?

Sometimes, Police Won’t Respond to an Accident

If your accident occurs in an area where the police are very busy handling other types of calls, you may not be able to have an officer dispatched to your accident. This can occur if you are in a large city, but also happens if your accident occurs during a weather disaster or other major drain on police resources.

Police may also choose not to come to the scene of an accident if there are no injuries reported or if the damage is very minor. Additionally, if the accident occurs on private property, they will often not come to the scene unless there is a disagreement among the drivers that requires police involvement. Private property includes not only houses and driveways but also parking lots of businesses.

Do I need a police report to file a car insurance claim??

You shouldn’t need a police report in order to file a claim with your insurance. The only occasion where a report becomes necessary is with theft issues: If you do not report your vehicle as stolen right away, the insurance company may not be able to pursue the claim. For the majority of accidents, you can handle the exchange of information without needing police assistance.

While you’re at the scene, be sure to gather the other party’s information if you can do so safely. Obtain their name, address and phone number, as well as their insurance information and the year, make and model of their vehicle. If you are unable to exit your vehicle safely or the other person is hostile or uncooperative, you should contact the police to help you obtain this information. Otherwise, your insurance company should be fine with any information you can exchange at the scene.

Do I still need to report a car accident to the DMV?

The Department of Motor Vehicles requires that you report any car accidents to them through a process called mandatory state reporting. When you file a police report this generally happens automatically. If you do not file a report, you will need to fill out the form yourself.

You can obtain this form from the police department itself by filing a report online, over the phone or in person. Alternatively, you can file directly with the DMV through the local DMV website. Usually, you will need to print out the form and send it to them through the mail, but some states allow you do fill the report out electronically.

The state reporting form can also be obtained from your insurance company, and may be mailed out to you as a courtesy following an accident. If you receive a form from your insurance but have already completed the report, you usually do not have to fill out the duplicate form; be sure to call your claims department to make sure before disposing of the form, however.

State Reporting Deadlines

The deadline for reporting an accident to the DMV depends upon the state you’re in. New York requires the report to be filed within 10 days of the accident, whereas California requires it within 30. If you do not report an accident to the DMV you can run the risk of having your license suspended, so it’s a good idea to fill out the paperwork as early as possible.

In some states, you are not required to report the accident unless the damage caused is over a certain threshold, usually $500 to $1,000. Since the deadline for reporting the accident will usually come before you know the total value of the claim, you might want to file the report anyway regardless of the amount of damage. Filing a report with the DMV for minor damage will not cause any problems with your license.

If you have any questions about state reporting or whether to call the police after an accident, you can contact your insurance company. Their claims department will be happy to discuss your options with you and point you down the right path to handling your accident.