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Written by:
Maggie O'Neill
Contributing Researcher
Maggie has twenty years of experience working in media. She is a writer and editor on car insurance and related issues. Before joining CarInsurance.com, she reported on health, education and lifestyle for magazines, websites and newspapers in Nevada.
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Reviewed by:
Laura Longero
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Executive Editor
Laura is an award-winning editor with experience in content and communications covering auto insurance and personal finance. She has written for several media outlets, including the USA Today Network. She most recently worked in the public sector for the Nevada Department of Transportation.

If you’re curious about how car accidents are reported in California, when they could show up on your driving record and how your license could be suspended, even if you didn’t cause the accident, we’re here to help.

Your car insurance company can look back at your driving record for three years to see if you’ve been in a collision or had a report of a traffic violation. If you wonder if a no-fault accident goes on your record in California, keep reading.

Learn more about how to read your California driving record

Key Highlights
  • An insurance company may examine your driving record for the previous three years. When you’ve been involved in an at-fault accident, you may have surcharges on your insurance due to a collision.
  • The California DMV requires all people in an accident to file an SR-1 report within 10 days when property damage exceeds $1,000 or someone is injured.
  • The state of California assigns points for various offenses. Most traffic violations stay on your record for three years from the violation date, while other convictions can stay on your record for up to 10 years.

How long does an at-fault accident stay on your record in California?

Your car insurance company may look back at your driving record for three years to see if you’ve been involved in an accident. If so, you may incur a surcharge (extra charge added to your insurance premium) for any incidents that were your fault. Be aware that increasing drivers’ insurance premiums in no-fault accidents is banned in California.

Every legal driver in California must carry car insurance – not only does this help to cover the costs of an accident and protect you financially, but it also can keep you from having your license suspended when you are in an accident. In California, your license can be suspended if you lack proof of insurance in the state – even when you are not at fault. 

If you are in a collision or accident, the violation could stay on your record anywhere from three to 10 years, depending on the seriousness of the incident. For example, if the collision involves a commercial vehicle and was also reported by the police, it will be on your record for 10 years from the collision date.

Learn more about which states are no-fault states

How are car accidents reported in California?

California police report every car accident to the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles. However, if the reporting police clearly indicate that the other party was at fault or there were no serious injuries and damage was less than $1,000, the accident may not appear on your driving record. That’s because California is a tort state.

A tort state means that if you’re driving and someone hits you, you may not be responsible for property damage or medical bills if you can prove the other driver was at fault for the accident.

Even if you are not at fault, the California DMV requires you to file a form called an SR-1. This must be done within 10 days when you are in a major car accident in which someone is injured or killed or when the property damage exceeds $1,000. Even if California Highway Patrol files a report, you or your insurance agent also must file an SR-1.

If there is no police report filed and the collision is reported by you or another party through an SR-1, you can expect the accident to show up on your record when the damage is more than $1,000 or if someone is injured or killed. According to the California Department of Motor Vehicles, it doesn’t matter who caused the collision.

The SR-1 not only records an accident but also helps to protect you against uninsured drivers. That’s because all drivers involved in an accident must file an SR-1 report, so if a driver doesn’t have insurance, it will show up on their DMV and police record and your insurance may have to foot the bill.

– Michelle Megna contributed to this story.

Resources & Methodology

Sources

  1. California Department of Motor Vehicles. “Financial Responsibility.” Accessed October 2022.
  2. California Department of Motor Vehicles. “Report of Accidents Occurring in California,(SR-1).” Accessed October 2022.
  3. California Department of Motor Vehicles. “Retention of Driver Record Information.” Accessed October 2022.
  4. California Department of Motor Vehicles. “Vehicle Collisions.” Accessed October 2022.
Laura Longero

Ask the Insurance Expert

Laura Longero

Executive Editor

Laura is an award-winning editor with experience in content and communications covering auto insurance and personal finance. She has written for several media outlets, including the USA Today Network. She most recently worked in the public sector for the Nevada Department of Transportation.

John McCormick

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John McCormick

Editorial Director

John is the editorial director for CarInsurance.com, Insurance.com and Insure.com. Before joining QuinStreet, John was a deputy editor at The Wall Street Journal and had been an editor and reporter at a number of other media outlets where he covered insurance, personal finance, and technology.

Leslie Kasperowicz

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Leslie Kasperowicz

Managing Editor

Leslie Kasperowicz is an insurance educator and content creation professional with nearly two decades of experience first directly in the insurance industry at Farmers Insurance and then as a writer, researcher, and educator for insurance shoppers writing for sites like ExpertInsuranceReviews.com and InsuranceHotline.com and managing content, now at CarInsurance.com.

Nupur Gambhir

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Nupur Gambhir

Managing Editor

Nupur Gambhir is a content editor and licensed life, health, and disability insurance expert. She has extensive experience bringing brands to life and has built award-nominated campaigns for travel and tech. Her insurance expertise has been featured in Bloomberg News, Forbes Advisor, CNET, Fortune, Slate, Real Simple, Lifehacker, The Financial Gym, and the end-of-life planning service.

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Contributing Researcher

Maggie has twenty years of experience working in media. She is a writer and editor on car insurance and related issues. Before joining CarInsurance.com, she reported on health, education and lifestyle for magazines, websites and newspapers in Nevada.