Car accidents can be stressful and sometimes life-altering. Aside from the shock of an accident itself, there's also the process of insurance, paperwork, and police reports to deal with. If you've been in an accident, whether major or minor, you may be wondering if it will be reported on your driving record and if so, how long it will remain there. Understanding how accident reporting works can offer perspective on how long accidents can linger on a driving record.

Key Takeaways

  • Having an accident on your driving record can affect your car insurance rates and what you pay for premiums.
  • In general, your car insurance company does not report accidents to the DMV.
  • Many states have laws that require the police—or you—to file a report with the DMV; one must always be filed if someone is injured or killed in a collision.
  • The main reason why an insurance company communicates with the DMV about your driving history is if your insurance lapses, does not meet certain standards, or if you are convicted of a serious driving offense, such as a DUI.

How Long Accidents Stay on a Driving Record

When you're involved in a car accident, whether you're at fault or not, it can be reported to the Department of Motor Vehicles in your state. The accident then becomes part of your driving record. Which state you live in can determine how long an accident remains on your record.

Here are some examples of how long states maintain accident records for drivers:

  • California: Three years from the date of the accident
  • New York: Three years from the end of the year in which the accident occurred
  • New Hampshire: Five years from the date of the accident
  • Oregon: At least five years

As you can see, the typical length of time an accident can remain on your record is three to five years. But it's important to check the driving record requirements in your state as they may be different.

In terms of how a car accident can affect your car insurance rates, it typically depends on several things include:

  • The seriousness of the accident
  • Who was at fault
  • What type of driving violation you were charged with, if any
  • Your age
  • Prior driving record
  • Where you live

Your insurance company can also determine what you'll pay, as every insurer rates accidents differently. Though it can be difficult to predict an exact increase amount, it's safe to assume that if you're involved in a car accident you can expect to pay more for insurance going forward.

Note

The time frame for how long other driving violations can remain on your record, such as speeding tickets or DUI convictions, may differ from the time frame for accident reporting.

When Car Accidents Must Be Reported

In many states, a DMV report is required following any accident that you are involved in, regardless of who is at fault. This requirement is often subject to a property damage threshold that dictates which collisions are accidents that require reporting and which are simply "fender-benders."

For example, in New York, all drivers involved in collisions that cause at least $1,000 in collective property damage are required to report a "Civilian Accident Report" to the DMV. If anyone was injured in the accident, you have just 10 days from the date of the accident to file this report.

If someone is injured or killed in a collision, it must be reported to the DMV regardless of your state of residence. In most cases, accidents that meet your state's reporting criteria require the aid of the police or other emergency services. When the police are involved, they are required to make a DMV report. Your state may require you to submit a report first if the police cannot do so in a timely manner.

If the accident is not severe enough to require the aid of emergency personnel—and there is no police report made—the DMV is generally not aware of the incident, even if you make a claim on your insurance. However, having a police report certainly helps when making a claim, as the police report contains detailed information about the accident.

When an insurance company investigates an accident, it uses a police report to determine who is at fault and how to proceed with the claim, so make sure it's accurate.

Does Your Car Insurance Company Report Accidents to the DMV?

In most cases, your car insurance company does not report accidents to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). However, depending on your state of residence, either you or the police are probably required to file a report with the DMV, regardless of whether your insurance company gets involved. In addition, your insurance contract likely requires you to alert your insurance company about any collision you are involved in, even if you do not make a claim.

The primary reason your insurance company would notify the DMV about your driving activity is if your insurance does not meet certain standards. In the United States, drivers are required to carry a minimum amount of liability insurance, even if they do not carry insurance to cover damage to their own vehicles.

Important

If you allow your insurance policy to lapse, your car insurance company notifies the DMV, which may suspend or revoke your license until you are fully insured.

How to Get Insured With an Accident on Your Record

If you have an accident on your driving record, that doesn't necessarily bar you from getting car insurance. But it may limit your options for coverage so you'll need to do your research carefully.

When searching for car insurance after an accident, consider the seriousness of the accident, who was at fault and your previous driving record. If this is your first accident, it may not be as difficult to find coverage with a new insurer. Taking time to shop around and compare the best car insurance companies can help you find a policy that fits your needs and budget, without sending your premiums skyrocketing.

On the other hand, if you are convicted of a serious driving offense, such as driving while under the influence, you may have fewer options. Your insurance company can, however, file a Statement of Responsibility, or SR-22, with the DMV. The SR-22 proves that you carry the minimum necessary insurance required by your state. Keep in mind, though, that not all insurance companies offer the option of filing an SR-22 and most do not insure drivers who have lost their driving privileges.

Tip

Be sure to shop around for car insurance at least once a year to see if your rates might improve as the accident record ages.