A car accident can take many forms, from an annoyance that ruins one person’s afternoon to a serious crash resulting in life-altering injuries to multiple parties. While the specific circumstances of your car accident will, to some extent, dictate your response, there are basic steps that can be followed any time you’re involved in an automobile accident.

Step 1: Remain at the Scene

Even if the damage is fairly minor, or you hit a parked car and no one is injured, it’s important to stay where you are. If you were responsible for the accident, leaving the scene could result in criminal charges.

If it’s both necessary and possible, pull your vehicle out of the roadway to a safe location. Activate your emergency flashers if they’re functional. Besides that, leave everything at the scene exactly as it is so that authorities can investigate effectively.

If your accident involves only cosmetic damage to your own vehicle — for instance, you hit a small piece of debris — it is okay to continue along to your destination. You may still want to file a report with your local police for insurance purposes if you intend to file a claim.

Step 2: Check for Injuries, Administer First Aid, and Seek Medical Attention

Check yourself and your passengers for injuries, then continue helping others as your abilities and your own injuries allow. It’s a great idea for all motorists to have current first aid and CPR certification in case the worst happens.

If anyone needs medical attention, call in the accident using 911 services so that a single phone call suffices to get both police and medical personnel on the scene.

Never attempt to move someone who has been injured in a car accident unless their position puts them in immediate danger of further injury. For example, leave them be unless they’re lying in the roadway or stuck in a burning car.

Step 3: Contact the Authorities

If this hasn’t already been covered by a 911 call in the previous step, now is the time to contact the local sheriff or police department. Ideally, this is done via cellular phone so that nobody needs to leave the scene.

If you don’t have the ability to call in your accident, such as on a rural highway with limited service, try to signal to another motorist for assistance reporting the accident. Only in circumstances of extreme need, such as someone in imminent danger of death without professional medical intervention, should an involved party leave the scene to get help.

Do not attempt to clean up. Even well-intended gestures like removing debris from the roadway could constitute tampering with evidence if the accident ends up in a courtroom.

Step 4: Exchange Information

Anyone involved in the accident should freely exchange with all other parties their full name, address, phone number, automobile insurance details, and driver’s license number, as well as attorney contact information if any party has already sought representation. A cell phone is a great tool for taking quick photos of driver’s licenses and insurance cards.

Step 5: Collect Evidence

Take photos to capture all damage to vehicles and property. Some photos should include surrounding landmarks, traffic signals, and environmental evidence like skid marks so that the crash can be fully contextualized by someone analyzing the photos. Get close-up photos of every vehicle’s license plate and VIN tag if possible. Also, photograph any physically visible injuries.

Collecting evidence does not mean gathering debris. Once again, do not touch anything — wait until the authorities arrive to offer further instructions.

Step 6: File Your Police Report

When the police arrive, answer their questions honestly but concisely. Do not volunteer additional information or attempt to analyze the crash beyond the facts as you know them. You should neither assume responsibility nor place blame on another party. The process to come will litigate these matters, not today’s police report.

It’s also a good idea to document the name, badge number, and title or rank of each official you interact with. This can be intimidating to ask for, but you are entitled to this information. You should also be given a reference number for your police report before you are cleared to leave.

Step 7: Contact Your Insurance Carrier

Once you have a police report with a reference number, contact your insurance carrier. Once again, explain the facts without projection, speculation, or analysis. They will likely ask you to share some of the evidence or information you have collected thus far.

Step 8: Contact an Attorney

If you’ve been injured, you will want to hire an experienced personal injury lawyer to take on your case and maximize your chances for compensation. Alternatively, if the police bring charges against you for a major traffic violation that you were not actually at fault for, you could consider calling a criminal defense attorney.


Q: Do I have to call the police after a car accident in California?

A: Yes. Notifying the authorities should be one of your first steps after involvement in any car accident. Even if you’re involved in a single-car accident resulting in only minor cosmetic damages, you will want to file a police report for insurance purposes.

Q: What happens If I’m at fault in a car accident in California?

A: If you are determined to be at fault for a car accident in California, it means you (or your insurance carrier) must pay for damages incurred to other drivers or property. Enlist the services of a qualified attorney and allow the process to play out.

Q: What do you do after a minor car accident?

A: If an accident involves two or more vehicles, everyone involved should remain on the scene until law enforcement has cleared them to leave, even if damage is minor or there are no serious injuries.

Q: Do I have to file a police report for a car accident in California?

A: Yes, there should be a police report filed any time a car accident occurs in the State of California. Failing to properly report your accident may affect your ability to file an insurance claim or seek damages.

Contact a California Personal Injury Expert Today

If you have been injured in a car crash, seek medical attention, file your police report, and then enlist Kenneth M. Sigelman & Associates for expert legal advice. We won’t stop fighting until you’ve received the support you’re entitled to. Contact us online to schedule a consultation.