Injury Law Blog

What to Exchange After an Accident

Car accidents can be disorienting, especially for those who have never been in an accident before. Trying to figure out what to do to address and accident moments after the incident can bring more stress to the table. Remember, being prepared even for seemingly unexpected events can prevent confusion and decrease the tension associated with accidents in general. When communicating with the other driver involved in an accident, keep the following information in mind.

California’s Vehicle Code, Summarized

California’s vehicle code states that it is mandatory for drivers to exchange information after a motor vehicle accident. The only exception to this rule is when the accident injured either driver to the point of not being able to communicate. In this case, drivers must contact law enforcement and emergency services.

Vehicle code states that the following information must be exchanged at the scene of an accident:

  • The driver’s full name and address
  • The driver’s registered license number
  • The driver’s vehicle identification number (VIN)
  • The car owner’s address, only if different from the driver’s address

Drivers must also provide proof of their “financial responsibility.” Drivers can achieve this through several acceptable options.

  • A valid car insurance card, physical or electronic
  • A certificate showing the driver’s self-insured status
  • Documentation proving that the vehicle is owned/leased by the government or another public entity

The intent of California’s vehicle code requirements are to cover several key facts that drivers must share: contact information for future correspondence, proof they are legally operating the vehicle, and proof they have adequate protection for the vehicle in the case of damage.

Penalties for Breaking California Vehicle Code

Breaking California’s Vehicle Code by neglecting to exchange information comes with several repercussions.

  • Law enforcement charges the driver with an infraction
  • Charges the driver with a $250 maximum fine

This fine does not include court-related fees, so the total dollar figure of this infraction typically comes out to be around $1,000. This is a hefty fine to pay in exchange for not communicating properly with the other driver involved in an accident.

Why Is It Important to Exchange Information?

First, depending on the context of the accident, not exchanging information could become quite costly. You are not supposed to leave the scene of an accident, especially after neglecting to exchange proper information. In California, leaving the scene of an accident before law enforcement arrives counts as a hit-and-run, even if the driver’s actions aren’t malicious. Hit-and-run incidents that accompany accident-related injuries count as an act of felony, while most others count as a misdemeanor. Depending on your case, the charges for a hit-and-run fall between $5,000 and $20,000.

Exchanging information is also necessary when addressing what happens after the accident. This process is crucial in initiating claims processes within both parties’ insurance companies. By not gathering the other driver’s information, you prevent your insurance company from filing a claim with the other driver’s carrier. This means you can’t even negotiate a settlement for damage you sustained during the accident. Because California practices pure comparative fault law, all parties have the option to pursue insurance and/or personal injury claims.

Additional Consequences 

If the other driver involved in the incident does obtain your contact information, or law enforcement finds you after leaving an accident scene before exchanging information, you could face much more damage than if you were to properly exchange. On top of facing the fines associated with California’s Vehicle Code, you also face the threat of legal action from the driver. This can amount to thousands of dollars in legal fees.

It is crucial to remember what information to exchange with the driver(s) involved in accidents you were a part of. This simple act of communication prevents driving infractions and fines that only increases the stress associated with car accidents. If you or a loved one was injured in a car accident due to another’s negligence, contact us. Our team of Sacramento car accident lawyers can help you explore your legal options.