If you are involved in a car accident in Virginia, the law requires that you perform certain “duties” in the minutes and days following the accident.
Importantly, these duties can change based on the circumstances of the accident and whether or not you choose to communicate with the other driver.
For this reason, you may not have to call the police after a car accident, though it’s often a good idea to do so.
In this article, we’ll briefly cover the responsibilities you have after you’re involved in a Virginia traffic accident. Note, however, that this article only covers the basics of the matter.
Only an attorney who has reviewed your entire case can give you an accurate evaluation of what you should do next in your case.
Do I Have to Call the Police After a Traffic Accident?
Many Virginia residents actually misunderstand the law regarding whether or not you should call the police after a traffic accident.
Much of this confusion stems from the 1976 Supreme Court of Virginia decision in Banks v. Commonwealth, which references an older version of the Virginia Code.
Essentially, an older version of the Virginia Code stated that you had to call the police after every major traffic accident.
However, this is no longer the case.
Nowadays, the Virginia Code specifically states (with added emphasis):
“The driver of any vehicle involved in an accident in which a person is killed or injured, or in which an attended vehicle or other attended property is damaged, shall immediately stop as close to the scene of the accident as possible…and report his name, address, driver’s license number, and vehicle registration number forthwith to the State Police or local law-enforcement agency, [OR] to the person struck and injured…[OR] to the driver or some other occupant of the vehicle.”Virginia Code § 46.2-894
This fact was recently reinforced by the Virginia Court of Appeals, which stated:
“By its plain language, the statute provides multiple people to whom a driver may report the specified information and thus satisfy the statutory obligation…The General Assembly’s repeated use of the coordinating conjunction ‘or’ in its listing of people to whom a driver must report the specified information makes clear that reporting the information to any one of the identified people satisfies the statutory mandate.”Butcher v. Commonwealth, 819 SE 2d 862 – Virginia Court of Appeals 2018
In this way, you don’t have to report an accident to the police, you just need to report it to one of the individuals listed in this specific section of the Virginia Code.
What other duties do I have?
There are four specific laws in the Virginia Code which explain the various “duties” of individuals involved in traffic accidents.
Virginia Code § 46.2-894 – If a driver is involved in an accident involving injury, death, or property damage, they must:
- Stop as close as possible to the scene as possible without obstructing traffic.
- Report the accident to one of the individuals noted in the longer quoted section above (such as the other driver or the State Police).
- Provide reasonable assistance to any injured individuals.
Virginia Code § 46.2-895 – If the driver fails to follow the above-mentioned duty, every passenger over the age of 16 has a duty to report the accident to the police within 24 hours.
Virginia Code § 46.2-896 – If a driver hits any form of unattended property (such as a parked car or a mailbox), they have to perform several duties, such as leaving a note with their contact information and reporting the accident to the police within 24 hours.
Virginia Code § 46.2-897 – If the driver fails to follow the above-mentioned duty (regarding unattended property), every passenger present at the time of the accident, who is over the age of 16 has a duty to report the accident to the police within 24 hours.
Penalties for Failing to Report a Traffic Accident
The Virginia Code assigns rather harsh penalties to individuals who knowingly fail to report accidents:
- In cases where the accident resulted in injury, death, or more than $1,000 in property damage, failing to report is a Class 5 felony. It is punishable by up to ten years in prison, in addition to steep fines of up to $2,500.
- If the accident only resulted in less damage of $1,000 or less to property, failing to report the accident is still a Class 1 misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 and up to one year in jail.
Additionally, any person convicted of violating these laws may have their driving privileges revoked for up to six months (provided the accident resulted in $500 or more in damages).
Finally, you should note that all of these penalties apply to passengers in the vehicle as well, provided that they are over the age of 16.
This makes Virginia one of a few states where the passenger of a vehicle can be charged with hit and run (“leaving the scene of an accident” in Virginia).
Four Things You Should Do After a Car Accident in Virginia
These tasks can range from taking pictures of the scene to calling for emergency services and contacting your attorney.
In the contexts of this article, it’s generally a good idea to:
- Call the Police
- Request a Copy of the Police Report
- Read the Virginia Code
- Call Your Insurance Company
We’ll outline each of these tasks in a bit more detail below.
1. Call the Police
As noted above, you don’t have to call the police after a car accident in Virginia. However, it’s highly recommended that you do so.
After you report your accident, a police officer will typically be dispatched to the scene. They will then collect evidence, ask you questions, and create a police report based on the answers you give.
The police officer may also give either driver a ticket, which typically represents charges for a traffic infraction.
Receiving a ticket doesn’t necessarily mean that you were at fault for the accident. However, insurance companies often regard it as strong evidence in that direction.
2. Request a Copy of the Police Report
Regardless of who ends up with a ticket, you should request a copy of this police report.
That’s because the police report will provide a great deal of information to you, your insurance company, and your lawyer.
This information will often be critical in resolving your claim. However, remember that police reports are not admissible as evidence in Virginia courts.
You can request the police report for your accident by contacting the Virginia DMV.
To do so, you’ll have to use the information contained in the “Crash Report” that the officer gave you at the scene of the accident.
Finally, keep in mind that filing a police report is not the same as reporting the accident to your insurance company.
If you were involved in an accident, you still need to do both.
3. Read the Virginia Code Article on Traffic Accidents
Virginia has a surprisingly robust online legal system through the Legislative Information System.
As part of this online information system, you can access the entire Virginia Code online.
For this reason, there’s really no harm in reading the laws surrounding traffic accidents in Virginia. Best of all, these laws are actually surprisingly short and easy to read.
It should only take you roughly five to six minutes to read the entire section of the Virginia Code concerning traffic accidents.
4. Report Your Accident to Your (or the Other Driver’s) Insurance Provider
Finally, you should also report your accident to the applicable auto insurance provider as soon as possible after the accident.
Essentially, if you were not at fault for the accident, you should report the accident to the other party’s insurance company (i.e. file a claim them with them).
Then, you should notify your own insurance company that you’ve opened a claim agains the other driver’s insurance.
However, if you believe that you were actually at fault for the accident, you should avoid opening a claim against the other party.
Instead, you should simply inform your own insurance, who will then open an investigation into the incident.
After their investigation, your insurance company will likely send you a letter with a “settlement” amount to pay for any damages you incurred as a result of the crash.
By agreeing to this amount, you are effectively ending your case, and waiving your right to sue for further damages.
Finally, if your insurance determines that you were not at fault for the accident, your insurance premiums will likely stay the same (i.e. the crash will have no effect on your rates).
Under current Virginia laws, you don’t have to call the police after a car accident. It’s simply a good idea to do so.
The police can help provide essential services, such as creating a report of the incident.
They can also help keep the peace in the tense moments and hours after a serious accident.
Regardless of whether or not you call the police after the accident, you should always make sure to fulfill your statutorily required duty of reporting the accident to at least one of the parties noted in Virginia’s car accident law.
Failing to properly report an accident could open you up to criminal charges for leaving the scene of an accident, as well as possibly even harm your personal injury case.