Find out what NJ and PA laws say about reporting a car crash and what you should – and shouldn’t – do when you report a collision.
When an accident seems minor, you might be tempted not to report it.
After all, you don’t want to make a big deal out of nothing. The person who caused the crash might try to persuade you that you don’t need to involve the police so that he or she can avoid getting a ticket for violating traffic laws. You don’t want to be held up at the accident scene waiting for the police, and you can just get the other driver’s insurance information – right?
In the immediate aftermath of a crash that doesn’t cause life-threatening injuries, this logic may seem to make perfect sense. But when you fail to report an accident, you’re leaving yourself open to significant consequences.
If you notice pain or discomfort in the days that follow – a common situation – or if your car is more badly damaged than you initially realized, you’ll wish that you had reported the accident when it happened.
Accident Reporting Laws in New Jersey and Pennsylvania
In New Jersey and Pennsylvania, reporting a car accident promptly isn’t just a smart thing to do – it’s the law. And breaking that law can cost you your driving privileges.
When Does a Car Accident Have to be Reported in New Jersey?
New Jersey state laws require drivers to submit a written accident report to the New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT) within 10 days if that collision resulted in any of the following:
- A death to any party involved in the accident
- Any injury, even if it was not life-threatening
- Damage to any car involved that amounts to more than $500 in repairs
Even a low-impact crash can cause some serious, and long-term, injuries that you might not know about until later. And even relatively minor cosmetic vehicle damage can still cost more than $500. That’s one reason why our car accident lawyers encourage drivers to report every car accident in New Jersey to the police when it happens.
If you don’t call the police at the time of your accident and you fail to file a written accident report after the fact, you could wind up losing not just your driver’s license, but also your vehicle registration privileges. This means not only can’t you drive yourself to work, school, or any of the other places you need to go, but you can’t even legally have someone else drive your car.
When to Report an Accident in Pennsylvania
When it comes to reporting accidents, Pennsylvania’s state laws are similar to New Jersey’s. Drivers are required to “immediately by the quickest means of communication give notice to the nearest office of a duly authorized police department” if the accident causes an injury, a death, or enough damage that the vehicle must be towed from the scene.
If the police come to the scene of the accident, they will usually prepare a crash report. Otherwise, the driver has five days to submit their own written report.
Fail to report a Pennsylvania collision, and you could lose your driver’s license.
How Reporting the Accident Protects You
Reporting a collision is important because it protects you in ways that, at the time of the crash, you’re probably not even thinking about yet.
For one thing, you certainly want to make it known that you stopped at the scene of the accident and provided any aid necessary – both of which are actions the law requires you to take, even if you’re not the one at fault for the crash. If the other driver decides to file a police report later, you don’t want to be accused of leaving the scene. A hit-and-run is a serious crime with serious penalties.
You’ll also want to document the accident – and make sure that what’s documented is accurate. If you later learn that the property damage was more severe than you thought or realize that the pain you’re feeling isn’t just a little temporary soreness, you’ll need to go through your or the other driver’s auto insurance coverage – and the insurer will want to see the crash report.
If there’s no proof that the accident happened at all, don’t expect your or the other driver’s insurance company to shell out the money to pay for your medical treatment, car repairs, or other damages. Insurers are infamous for trying to get out of paying claims – and by not documenting the accident, you’re making their job even easier.
Don’t count on the other driver just paying you cash so you can avoid involving the insurers altogether. You’d be surprised how many accident victims we talk to who thought they could trust the promise of the at-fault driver – only to find that the driver gave them false contact information, or suddenly became unreachable, or even acted hostile when it was time to make good on that promise. Involving the insurance companies can certainly be a hassle, but it’s still a better choice than just hoping the other driver will step up and do the right thing.
Do’s and Don’ts of Reporting a Car Accident
Wondering what you should do when reporting a car accident? These quick tips can help.
- Do call 911 for help. If someone is hurt, even slightly, having emergency medical personnel on the scene can be important.
- Do wait at the scene until the authorities arrive – no matter what. It doesn’t matter if you’re scared, confused, or even at fault for the collision – staying at the scene and facing the consequences there is a far better option than facing criminal penalties for a hit-and-run.
- Do think carefully about the information you provide the police. An accident can leave you feeling shaken and make it difficult to think and express yourself clearly. It’s okay to take a minute to calm down so you can tell the police what happened in the most accurate way possible.
- Don’t discuss fault. When an accident has just occurred, you may not know yet precisely what happened to cause the crash, and you don’t want to volunteer to take the blame for something that’s not even your fault. If something occurred on the roadway that, for instance, forced you to stop short, say so. But don’t apologize or say the crash is your fault for stopping short – it’s most likely the other driver’s fault for not maintaining a safe following distance.
- Don’t discuss your medical condition. You’re not a doctor and you haven’t seen one yet, so you really don’t know if you’re injured. Instead of saying that you’re “okay” when you’re really not sure, simply say that you’ll see a doctor to get checked out.
- Don’t forget to gather your own information, too. The police report is important, but it could take several days before it becomes available – and you might need help sooner. Write down the other driver’s contact and insurance information, as well as the information of any witnesses to the crash. Take notes about what you remember. Photograph the accident scene and the damage.
If in doubt, always report a collision to the police. Failing to report a crash is a mistake that you might end up regretting.