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California Driver Handbook - Handling Emergencies


California Driver Handbook - Handling Emergencies

Collisions Are Not Accidents

An “accident” implies an unforeseen event that occurs without anyone’s fault or negligence. Most often in traffic, that is not the case.

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 you can. Those injured will be helped faster if other vehicles aren’t blocking the road. If you must drive near a collision, do not stop or slow down just to look. You may cause another crash. Drive by carefully, watching for people in the road.

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.

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 the DMV within 10 days if:

  • More than $750 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 the 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 four years, if you did not have proper insurance coverage. During the last three years of the suspension, your driver license can be returned to you if you provide a California Insurance Proof Certificate (SR 22) and maintain it during the three-year period.

Safety Tips

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

  • Safely pull to the right shoulder. Ideally, park the vehicle next to a call box, if possible. (There is a call box located every quarter mile to 2 miles.)
  • 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 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.

The FSP program:

  • Cannot tow your vehicle to a private repair service or residence.
  • Does not recommend tow service companies or repair and body shops.
  • Does not tow motorcycles.
  • Does not assist vehicles which have been involved in a collision unless directed by the CHP.
  • Does report any collision to the CHP.

If FSP cannot start your vehicle, it will be towed free of charge to a location approved by the CHP. FSP will also contact additional assistance for you. The CHP will notify an auto club or towing service.

The FSP serves the following areas:

  • Valley Division–the Sacramento metro and Tracy areas
  • Golden Gate Division–the San Francisco Bay Area
  • Central Division–the Fresno area
  • Southern Division–the Los Angeles Basin
  • Inland Division–the Riverside area
  • Border Division–the San Diego and Orange County areas
  • Coastal Division–the Monterey and Santa Cruz areas

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

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