If your teen is involved in a vehicle accident in California, there are some very specific things they should do to ensure their safety and the safety of those around them. If they don’t do some of these things, they could be charged with breaking a law, face an escalated charge, or be fined.

This handy guide to car accident safety will include detailed lists and general guidance for exactly what your teen needs to do if they get into an accident. Following these guidelines will greatly help them minimize the damage, confusion, and financial impacts that can come with accidents.

We’ve also included a PDF guide to teen car accident safety. We recommend you print it and put it in the glove compartment.

What Counts As A Vehicle Accident Or Collision? 

The California DMV defines an accident as any collision of a vehicle with another vehicle, animal, or property. The state has guidelines and laws in place that determine what steps a driver should take in the event any of these types of accidents occur.

Teen Car Accident First Steps

A teen driver is particularly susceptible to accidents because of their lack of driving experience and common teen behaviors. If your teen finds themselves in an accident, they need to be familiar with accident laws and take the following steps. These steps come from the California Department of Motor Vehicles:

  1. STOP: Stop the vehicle as soon as possible and turn on the hazard lights. California law requires that every party involved in a vehicle collision stop. Even if they are not at fault or if there is no injury or damage. If any involved driver doesn’t stop, they could be charged with an offense such as “hit and run.”
  2. MOVE TO SAFETY: If they’re able, your teen must move themselves and their vehicle out of the road to a place of safety (typically as far over on the right-hand side of the road as possible). If your teen is unable to move the vehicle, it will be moved or impounded by an officer or authorized official.
  3. CALL 911: Once they’re safely off to the side, they should check themselves and their passengers for any evidence of injury. If there is an injury (even a minor one), death, and/or property damage exceeding $1,000, they should call 911 immediately to report the injury or collision to the California Highway Patrol.

When Do You Need To Call The Police After A Car Accident?

You and your teen should know that California law requires that all vehicle collisions be reported by calling 911 if the accident results in an injury (even a minor one), death, and/or property damage exceeding $1,000. (Source)

Failure to do so within 10 days could result in various charges or fines.

What Information Do You Exchange In A Vehicle Or Car Accident?

There is essential information that your teen should be prepared to exchange with the other driver. The information that drivers exchange between themselves usually includes insurance information, names, and contact information.

Information That The California DMV Suggests You Always Collect When Involved In A Collision 

  • Driver’s date of birth, license number, and state.
  • Vehicle license plate number and state.
  • Driver’s name, address, and insurance company name.
  • Insurance policy number and expiration date.
  • Policy holder’s name and address.
  • Vehicle owner’s name and address (if different from driver).
  • Note of any injuries or property damage.

Information Your Teen Will Need For Police After Any Type Of Collision Or Car Accident 

  • Driver’s license.
  • Vehicle registration card.
  • Evidence of financial responsibility (usually insurance company name and policy number).
  • Current address (if it’s not correct/current on the driver’s license).

What Should You Do If You Hit An Animal With Your Vehicle Or Car?

The California Department of Motor Vehicles actually has guidelines in place for this type of accident. Their guidelines state that you should never leave an injured animal to die. Instead, follow these steps:

  • Pull over to the side of the road and stop.
  • Attempt to find the animal’s owner.
  • If you can’t find the owner, call the police, the nearest humane society, or the California Highway Patrol.

TIP: If your teen has a smartphone, they can google “humane society near me” or “humane society.”

What Should You Do If You Hit Property With Your Vehicle Or Car?

If your teen hits a parked vehicle or any other property, they should take the following steps immediately:

  • Try to find the owner of the vehicle or property.
  • Identify themselves before they leave the collision site. If they can’t give this information to the owner, they should leave their name and address on the damaged vehicle or property. If they don’t own the vehicle they’re driving, they should also include the name and address of the vehicle’s owner.
  • They should report the collision to the police or California Highway Patrol.

What Else Should You Do After A Car Or Vehicle Accident?

The California Department of Motor Vehicles stipulates that you, your insurance agent/broker, or legal representative must report any collision to the DMV. While there are limits as discussed above in the “When Do You Need To Call The Police After A Car Accident?” section, injury and damage costs can be subjective, so it’s wisest to report any accident. 

You can do this by filling out a Report of Traffic Accident Occurring in California (SR 1) form and submitting it to the DMV. This needs to happen within 10 days if there’s more than $1,000 damage to the property of either party or if anyone is injured (no matter how minor the injury seems to be). This form also needs to be submitted if anyone is killed.

You can find this form here. 

A teen car accident is a parent’s worst nightmare. Unfortunately, the chances they will be involved in an accident at some point is relatively high. Throughout a lifetime of driving, one person in three will be injured or killed in a vehicle collision. Therefore, it’s essential to keep the odds on your teen’s side and make sure they know what to do in a potentially dangerous or illegal situation.

The California DMV issued this Car Accident Safety Guide PDF. It includes much of the information in this article, as well as additional details and contact numbers. Why not print it out and give it to your teen to keep in the glove box?