What to do in the Event of an Auto Accident
(Besides Call the Law Offices of Thomas P. Cotrel at (818)841-4650)

Print out this accident report form to keep in your car.


  1. GET LIABILITY INSURANCE. If you don't have it, GET IT. AND KEEP PROOF OF IT IN YOUR CAR AT ALL TIMES. Even if you're not at fault for the accident, you can lose your license for a year and get hit with a $1,300 plus fine for not having it. And if you're uninsured, you will not be able to collect any "pain and suffering" damages, just doctor bills, property damage and lost time from work. Also, you need insurance just to get your car registered, so go get it. If you do have it, review it. If you are making monthly payments on your car, your loan company/bank will require you to maintain a policy to protect their interest in the event the car is totaled. More than one person has mistaken such a policy for the required liability type. It isn't.

  2. BE PREPARED. Keep paper and pencil (and this form), a cheap, loaded camera, flares/reflectorized road markers, a good first aid kit and fire extinguisher in your car. Each could come in handy. As could a cell phone.

  3. WEAR YOUR SEATBELT/SHOULDER HARNESS. And keep your kids belted in and away from any active airbag. In the event of an accident, your own conduct will be scrutinized. Your case will not be helped if your injuries are worsened by your own carelessness.

  4. DON'T DRINK AND DRIVE. There are several reasons why this is a good rule to follow (besides the fact that driving while intoxicated is illegal and can get you in jail and cost you your license and insurance, if not your car itself).

    If you were under the influence at the time of the accident, your recovery is limited to doctor bills, lost time from work and property damage. Assuming your drunkenness didn't cause the accident in the first place.

    The law makes it illegal to drive under the influence of drugs or alcohol OR to drive with a blood alcohol content (BAC) in excess of 0.08%. If you're under 21, you're busted with a BAC of 0.01%. So, in theory, ANY alcohol in your system can get you in trouble.

    Consider a few more things: People metabolize alcohol differently, and it takes a long time to wear off. Sleeping it off won't help: if you're hungover, you probably have a 0.08% or higher BAC. Two drinks CAN get you in trouble. The little chart the DMV hands out (that tells how many drinks a person can take before he is legally drunk) defines a "drink" as a 1 oz shot of hard liquor or a 4 oz glass of wine or a 12 oz can or bottle of beer. A mixed drink is not a drink as per the DMV's fine print. Coffee only makes you jittery AS WELL AS uncoordinated and slow to react. ANY drugs or alcohol can impair your ability to drive. In my mind, the risk is unacceptable and the DMV has no business giving out that above-mentioned chart. Stimulants, a fever, sleepiness, legal drugs (prescription and OTC) can impair your ability to drive and get you arrested. You can get in trouble if you're diabetic or epileptic and are driving without insulin or medication.

  5. MAKE SURE YOUR CAR WORKS. You don't want your vehicle stalling out in traffic or not stopping. Check the brakes, tires, electric system (e.g. alternator, headlights, brake lights, etc.), cooling system (including the water pump), timing chain (aka timing belt, cam belt, cam chain. If it breaks, the car stops and the engine can eat its valves) and catalytic converter/muffler (a bad catalytic converter can plug your exhaust system, killing the engine. A bad muffler can leak carbon monoxide into the car).

  6. KNOW HOW TO DRIVE YOUR VEHICLE. This sounds obvious, but the explosion in the popularity of sport utility vehicles (jeep-like four wheel drive truck-like station wagons) has introduced a population that grew up on cars to the challenges of driving vehicles with much higher centers of gravity. These things tip over way easier than our old cars ever did. Know how your new Blazer, Sportage, Cherokee, Land Cruiser or Range Rover handles, and know its limitations. ALSO, if you just got your first car with a stick shift, practice with it first. Don't teach yourself leaving a stop sign from uphill on a steep slope with a clutch in the middle of traffic.

  7. DON'T EAT AND DRIVE. And drink and drive. And call and drive. And consult your Thomas Guide and drive. They distract way too much.


  1. STAY THERE. Don't leave, even if you intend to come back or if you have to get to work. Only a medical emergency or imminent threat of bodily harm can excuse you from the scene. If you hit another car and the owner is not around, leave a note on the vehicle with your name, address and phone number where the owner can readily see it.

  2. MAKE SURE ALL INVOLVED VEHICLES ARE TURNED OFF and their hazard lights/flashers are on.

  3. USE YOUR FIRE EXTINGUISHER IF YOU CAN. If there is a small fire in or near the engine or in the car's interior, use it. If the gas tank is involved, don't attempt it. And don't use water to put out gasoline or electrical fires.

  4. CALL 911 IF the crash was serious, vehicles are left immobilized in the middle of the street, there is blood or broken bones, or if you believe alcohol was somehow involved.

  5. EXCHANGE INFORMATION. Get the other driver's/drivers' name, address, drivers' license number, car license number/VIN and his insurance company and policy number. And vice-versa.

  6. GET WITNESS INFO. Take down the name, address, phone number and any other contact info on each and every witness you can find.

  7. DO NOT PLAY DOCTOR. Unless it is an extreme emergency involving an imminent explosion or fire, don't move anyone who is unconscious or is complaining of a back or neck injury. Render only the first aid you are trained to render, with all precautions you are trained to take.


  1. CALL ME at (818)841-4650. I'll tell you if you have a case.

  2. CALL YOUR INSURANCE agent or carrier and report what happened to them. Cooperate with your own insurer. If you don't they can deny coverage for the accident.

  3. TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF. If injured, see a doctor. Document your injuries and steps taken to ameliorate them. Keep a diary of your aches and pains.

  4. REPORT THE ACCIDENT TO THE DMV. EVEN IF you were not at fault and the police took a report at the scene, YOU HAVE TO FILE A DMV SR-1 FORM and send it in right away. Failure to do so may cost you your license.

  5. IF THE OTHER DRIVER WAS UNINSURED, prove it. If you have uninsured motorist benefits and you need to make a claim on your policy for them, your insurer wants definitive proof the other driver was uninsured. The best, and almost always only, way to prove it is to get a certificate from the DMV saying that person did not have insurance. To do that, you need to submit a DMV SR-19C form to, well, the DMV.

Negligent Driver Point Counts: Common California Vehicle Code Violations
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copyright 1999, 2003 by Thomas P. Cotrel, Attorney at Law. All rights reserved.