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If I have an auto accident, do I have to stop?
Yes. California law says you must stop—whether the accident involves a pedestrian, a moving car, a parked car or someone’s property. If you drive away, you can be charged with hit and run even if the accident was not your fault.
You must also exchange information with the other driver—your name and driver’s license number, the vehicle identification number of the car you are driving, the name and address of the car’s owner, the name and address of your insurance company and your insurance policy number (or other evidence of financial responsibility, such as a bond posted with the Department of Motor Vehicles).
Hit-and-run penalties are severe. Depending on the damage or injuries, you may be fined, sent to jail or both. You also could lose your driver’s license.
If you hit a parked car or other property, try to find the owner or driver. If you cannot, the law says you may drive away only after you leave behind, in a conspicuous place, your name, address and an explanation of the accident, and the name and address of your car’s owner (if other than yourself).
You also must notify the local police or California Highway Patrol (CHP) either by telephone or in person as soon as possible.
You must call the police or the CHP if the accident caused a death or injury. An officer who comes to the scene of the accident will conduct an investigation. If an officer doesn’t show up, you must make a written report on a form available at the police department or CHP office as soon as possible.
What should I do if someone is injured?
The law requires you to give reasonable assistance to anyone who is injured. For example, you may need to call an ambulance, take the injured person to a doctor or hospital, or give first aid—if you know how.
If you are not trained in the appropriate first aid procedures, do not move someone who is badly hurt; you might make the injury worse. However, you should move someone who is in danger of being hurt worse or killed (for example, in a car fire) even if you do make the injury worse.
To help prevent additional collisions, try to warn other motorists that an accident has occurred. Placing flares on the road (only if there are no flammable fluids or items nearby), turning on your car’s hazard lights and lifting the engine hood are usually good ways to warn others on the road. Arrange to get help for anyone who is injured, and try not to panic.
How can I get help?
As soon as you can get to a telephone, call 911. Explain the situation and give the exact location of the accident, so that help can arrive quickly. Be sure to mention whether you need an ambulance or a fire engine.
Remain on the telephone until the operator tells you it is okay to hang up. Or, flag down a passing car and ask the driver to go for help. The driver may have a cellular phone in the car and can make an emergency call on the spot.
What information should I gather at the accident scene?
Since many records now are confidential under the law, you may not be able to obtain the information that you want from the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). So be sure to get as much correct and complete information as you can at the scene of the accident.
You and the other driver should show each other your driver’s licenses and vehicle registrations. Then you should write down:
The other driver’s name, address, date of birth, telephone number, driver’s license number and expiration date, and insurance company.
The other car’s make, year, model, license plate number and expiration date, and vehicle identification number.
The names, addresses, telephone numbers and insurance companies of the other car’s legal and registered owners—if the driver does not own the car.
The names, addresses, dates of birth, driver’s license numbers and telephone numbers of any passengers in the other car.
The names, addresses and telephone numbers of any witnesses to the accident. Ask them to stay to talk to the CHP or police. If they insist on leaving, ask them to tell you what they saw and write everything down.
Try to identify people at the accident scene, even if they will not give their names. For example, if someone who saw the accident drives off, take down his or her license plate number. Law enforcement officials can trace the owner’s name and address.
The name and badge number of the law officer who comes to the accident scene. Ask the officer where and when you can get a copy of any accident report.
A simple diagram of the accident. Draw the positions of both cars before, during and after the accident.
If there are skid marks on the road, pace them off. Draw them on the diagram, noting the distance they cover. Mark the positions of any crosswalks, stop signs, traffic lights or streetlights. If you have a camera with you, take pictures of the scene, and of the other drivers and occupants.
However, do not place yourself in a position of danger in order to complete an accident diagram. Be aware of traffic conditions and skip any measurements that could place you in a position of harm.
Make notes, too, on weather and road conditions.
If the accident happened after dark, note whether the streetlights were on. Estimate your speed and that of the other vehicle. Be sure to record the exact time, date and place the accident happened.
If I think the accident was my fault, should I say so?
Do not volunteer any information about who was to blame for the accident. You may think you are in the wrong and then learn that the other driver is as much or more to blame than you are. You should first talk to your insurance agent, your lawyer or both. Anything you say to the police or the other driver can be used against you later.
Do not agree to pay for damages or sign any paper except a traffic ticket (see #6) until you check with your insurance company or lawyer.
However, be sure to cooperate with the police officer investigating the case. But, stick to the facts.
For instance, if you were driving 30 miles an hour, say so. Do not say, “I wasn’t speeding.”