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California Driver Handbook - Handling Emergencies


California Driver Handbook - Handling Emergencies

Collisions Are Not Accidents

Causes of Collisions

The most common causes of collisions are:

  • Driver distractions.
  • Unsafe speed.
  • Driving on the wrong side of the road.
  • Improper turns.
  • Violating the right-of-way rules.
  • Violating stop signals and signs.

If you see a vehicle’s hazard lights ahead, slow down. There may be a collision or other road emergency ahead. Stop and give assistance if asked by anyone, or pass very carefully.

Avoid driving near collisions, if possible. Those injured will be helped faster if other vehicles aren’t blocking the road.

Involved in a Collision

If you are involved in a collision:

  • You must stop. Someone could be injured and need your help. If you do not stop, you may be convicted of “hit and run” and could be severely punished.
  • Call 9-1-1, if anyone is hurt.
  • Move your vehicle out of the traffic lane if no one is injured or killed.
  • Show your DL, vehicle registration card, evidence of financial responsibility, and current address to the other driver, persons involved, and peace officer.
  • You (or your insurance agent, broker, or legal representative) must make a written report to the police or California Highway Patrol (CHP) within 24 hours of the collision if someone is killed or injured.
  • You (or your insurance agent, broker, or legal representative) must make a written report to DMV within 10 days.
  • If you hit a parked vehicle or other property, leave a note with your name, phone number, and address in or securely attached to the vehicle or property you hit. Report the collision to the city police, or in unincorporated areas, to the CHP.
  • If your parked car rolls away and hits another vehicle, try to find the owner and report the incident to authorities as mentioned above.
  • If you kill or injure an animal, call the nearest humane society, police, or CHP. Do not try to move an injured animal or leave an injured animal to die.

    Reporting a Collision

    When you have a collision, report it to DMV within 10 days if:

    • More than $1,000 in damage was done to the property of any person.
    • Anyone was injured (no matter how slightly) or killed.

    Each driver (or the driver’s insurance agent, broker, or legal representative) must file a report with DMV using the Report of Traffic Accident Occurring in California (SR 1) form. Go online at or call 1-800-777-0133 and ask for the SR 1 form. The CHP or police will not make this report for you.

    You or your representative must make this report whether or not you caused the collision, even if the collision occurred on private property.

    Your driving privilege will be suspended:

    • If you do not make this report.
    • For up to 4 years, if you did not have proper insurance coverage, regardless of who was at fault during the collision. During the last 3 years of the suspension, your DL can be returned to you if you provide a California Insurance Proof Certificate (SR 22/SR 1P) and maintain it during the 3-year period.

    Safety Tips

    On the Freeway

    According to the CHP, if your vehicle becomes disabled on the freeway:

    • Safely pull to the right shoulder.
    • If you must exit the vehicle, exit on the right side of your vehicle, away from traffic.
    • Once you arrange for assistance, return to your vehicle, get back into the vehicle from the right side (away from traffic), and put on your seat belt.
    • Stay inside your vehicle with the seat belt on until help arrives.

    In certain circumstances (when there is not enough shoulder space or if there is a guardrail or an area to safely stay away from the freeway lanes), exit your vehicle and stay away from your vehicle. Use your emergency blinking lights at your discretion according to weather conditions. The lights may be helpful, but they could also attract drunk drivers. The CHP Freeway Service Patrol (FSP) provides free emergency roadside services during commute periods. If FSP cannot start your vehicle, it will be towed free of charge to a location approved by CHP. FSP will also contact additional assistance for you. CHP will notify an auto club or towing service.

    If you get stuck on the freeway because your vehicle stops running, FSP will:

    • Offer you a gallon of gas if you run out.
    • “Jump start” your vehicle if the battery is dead.
    • Refill your radiator and tape hoses.
    • Change a flat tire.
    • Report any collision to CHP.

    The FSP program will not:

    • Tow your vehicle to a private repair service or residence.
    • Recommend tow service companies or repair and body shops.
    • Tow motorcycles.
    • Assist vehicles which have been involved in a collision unless directed by the CHP.

     Call 1-800-TELLCHP (835-5247) to find out if the FSP operates where you are and how to contact the FSP.

    On Railroad Tracks

    If your vehicle stalls or is otherwise disabled while blocking any part of the train tracks, there is no accident or injury, and:Rail Road Crossing Sign

    • The warning lights are flashing/train is approaching—immediately exit your vehicle and run in a 45 degree angle away from the tracks in the direction that the train is coming, and then dial 9-1-1. You may only have 20 seconds to escape before the train arrives.
    • The warning lights are not flashing/you do not see a train approaching—exit your vehicle and immediately dial the Emergency Notification System (ENS) number located on the railroad crossing posts or metal control box near the tracks. Provide the location, crossing number (if posted), and the road or highway that intersects the tracks. Be sure to specify that a vehicle is on the tracks. After you call ENS, call 9-1-1.


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