The Duty to Report “Reportable Accidents” and Collisions with Parked Vehicles

State law requires the driver of a vehicle involved in a reportable accident to immediately notify the appropriate law enforcement agency of the crash. G.S. 20-166.1. A reportable accident is a crash that results in (1) a person’s injury or death, (2) property damage of at least $1,000, or (3) property damage to a vehicle seized pursuant to G.S. 20-28.3 for forfeiture in an impaired driving case. G.S. 20-4.01(33b). A crash is any event that results in injury or property damage attributable directly to the motion of a motor vehicle or its load. G.S. 20-4.01(4b). The terms collision, accident, and crash, and their cognates, are synonymous. Id.

If the accident occurred in a city, the “appropriate law-enforcement agency” is the city police department. If the accident outside city limits, the appropriate agency is the State Highway Patrol or the sheriff’s office or other qualified rural police of the county where the accident occurred.

The appropriate law enforcement agency must investigate a reportable accident and make a written report within 24 hours of the accident. G.S. 20-166.1(e). Such reports are made on Division of Motor Vehicles form DMV-349 and must specify (1) the cause of the crash; (2) the conditions existing at the time of the crash; (3) the persons and vehicles involved; and (4) whether the vehicle has been seized and is subject to forfeiture under G.S. 20-28.2. G.S. 20-166.1(h). The report also must contain information on financial responsibility for the vehicle driven by the person whom the officer identified as at fault for the accident. G.S. 20-166.1(e).

If the officer writing the report is a member of the State Highway Patrol, the officer sends the report directly to DMV. Other officers submit accident reports to the local law enforcement agency for the area where the accident occurred, which in turn submit the report to DMV.

On occasion, drivers must report even those crashes that are not defined as “reportable.” A driver of a motor vehicle that collides with another motor vehicle left parked or unattended on a street, road, or highway must report the collision to the owner of the parked or unattended motor vehicle. G.S. 20-166.1(c). Despite what the nomenclature might suggest, this requirement applies to a crash that is not a reportable accident as well as to one that is. The report may be made orally or in writing, must be made within 48 hours of the accident, and must include:  (1) the time, date, and place of the accident; (2) the driver’s name, address, and drivers license number; and (3) the registration plate number of the vehicle being operated by the driver at the time of the accident. If the driver makes a written report to the owner of the parked or unattended vehicle and the report is not given to the owner at the scene of the accident, the report must be sent to the owner by certified mail, return receipt requested, and a copy of the report must be sent to DMV.

G.S. 20-166.1(i) specifies that an accident report made by a person who is not a law enforcement officer is solely for use by DMV and may not be used in any civil or criminal trial arising out of the accident. Moreover, reports made by persons who are not law enforcement officers or medical examiners (who must report deaths arising from reportable accidents) are not public records.

Defendants charged with motor vehicle offenses occasionally argue that G.S. 20-166.1(i) bars the admission at trial of testimony from an investigating law enforcement officer that the defendant identified herself as the driver at the scene of the accident. The argument is based on the notion that the defendant’s statement is a “report” made “by a person who is not a law enforcement officer.” The court of appeals’ opinion in State v. Hernandez, 188 N.C. App. 193 (2008), is frequently cited as support. In Hernandez, the passenger in single car crash was convicted of giving false information in violation of G.S. 20-279.31(b) based on her statement to the investigating officer that she was driving the vehicle when it crashed. The defendant-passenger argued that the State failed to present substantial evidence that she gave “information required in a report of a reportable accident, knowing or having reason to believe the information is false,” since her statements were oral and she made no written report. The court rejected that argument, concluding that G.S. 20-279.31 required only that the defendant (1) give information; (2) required in a report of a reportable accident; (3) knowing or having reason to believe the information was false. The court held that the passenger “gave information” when she told the investigating officer that she was the driver, the State’s evidence was sufficient to demonstrate that her co-defendant was driving, and the identity of the driver is information required in a report of a reportable accident; thus, the State’s evidence was sufficient to support the jury’s verdict.

I disagree with the notion that statements made by defendants and incorporated into accident reports are barred from admission at trial pursuant to G.S. 20-166.1(i). Moreover, I don’t view Hernandez as providing support for that proposition.

G.S. 20-166.1(h) requires DMV to provide “forms or procedures for submitting crash data to persons required to make reports [of accidents]” and requires that reports be “made in a format approved by the Commissioner [of DMV].” Thus, it seems pretty clear that the term “report” in G.S. 20-166.1(i) refers to written reports, not statements made at the scene of the accident—regardless of whether those statements may later be incorporated into an officer’s written report. As for Hernandez, the court recognized in that case that a defendant’s oral statements were distinguishable from an investigating officer’s written report recounting such statements.

As noted above, crash reports are public records. DMV may use the reports to compile statistical information on motor vehicle accidents. Folks curious about the contents of such reports can view accident reports for my home city, Raleigh, here.

14 thoughts on “The Duty to Report “Reportable Accidents” and Collisions with Parked Vehicles”

  1. What about the direct conflict between the 5th amendment and 20-166?
    How can a statute require someone to remain at the scene of a crime and provide incriminating evidence ( namely the essential element of most motor vehicle offenses of “operation”) under penatly of law. It is clearly “compelled self incrimination”. Specifically, if you don’t tell the officer that you were the driver you get arrested for failure to report and possibly sentenced to jail.

    Under the author’s logic that 20 -116.1 doesn’t bar use of the “report” against a defendant in a criminal proceeding against him, than clearly a defendant has an 5th amendment right not to provide any information that could be used against him when “reporting” an accident to law enforcement. Specifically any information identiying the defendant as the operator of the vehicle would surely qualify.

    This was clearly not the result the legislature intended. In fact, they realized the conflict with 20-166 and the 5th amendment and remedied it with subsection (i). If not, why not just enact a series of statutes requiring people to self report all crimes to law enforcement. How about failure to report a murder? If you don’t tell us who did it you go to jail, etc..

  2. A plurality of the United States Supreme Court determined in California v. Byers, 402 U.S. 424 (1971) that California’s hit and run statute, which required the driver of a motor vehicle involved in an accident to stop at the scene and give his name and address did not violate the Fifth Amendment prohibition against self-incrimination. The court reached this conclusion on the basis that stopping and providing one’s name and address was nontestimonial and that government’s regulatory and non-criminal interests in obtaining the information outweighed the potentially incriminating nature of the disclosures.

  3. Who determines if the damage is $1000. If involved in the accident and I think there is only about $900 in damages and no one is injured or hurt then I guess I don’t have to report it? Lots of people don’t realize the cost of getting a car repaired in todays market. An older person who has not had an accident in long time and look at the damage and may only think couple hundred dollars and not report the accident. I believe if you are involved in ANY accident regardless of damage value it should be mandatory and possible criminal action if not reported.

  4. I believe if you are involved in ANY accident regardless of damage value and a police officer investigates a report should be written under these circumstances. 1. If it is mandatory by state law.
    2. If the damages is indeterminable.
    3. If one party ask for an official report.

  5. Driving is a privilege and not a right in North Carolina. Being in an accident and not reporting it would be considered a hit and run, regardless of the damage to the vehicles. The non-reportable part falls under if it is reportable to the DMV and insurance companies.

  6. When i was an officer we were required to write a report if any party requested one.cops now are so sorry and lazy that tbey find reasons not to do reports

    • I personally experienced this with my son last night. The officer did everything he could not to do any paperwork. He even tried to fix my plastic bumper damage with his key. He made worse scratches in the bumper. I have pictures and video. I kept insisting and he finally wrote something. But not ticket. My son was reareneded by a distracted driver. Cell phone and a full size parrot moving around in the vehicle.

  7. What if you think you ‘may’ have hit a dog while driving on a 25mph neighborhood street, stopped the vehicle and checked/saw no damage to the vehicle, looked, but saw no dog or anything else around that was “hit” or “damaged”, so left the scene and filed no report? I was (later) ticketed under (NC)G.S. 20-166(C) for failing to stop and report an accident.

    I am heading into court on 3-23-17, so any advice on how best to argue this case is GREATLY appreciated!

  8. I don’t see these requirements in 20-166.1 anywhere…. A reportable accident is a crash that results in (1) a person’s injury or death, (2) property damage of at least $1,000, or (3) property damage to a vehicle seized pursuant to G.S. 20-28.3 for forfeiture in an impaired driving case.

    Has this statute changed?

  9. Hello – I was moving and backed up a truck into a pressure washer main shut-off valve. I stopped to assess the damage and told my wife. Who was the only one on the lease. She mentioned she would call the office when they opened and agreed we would work it out as we moved out to see if we use insurance or not. About a week went by and I had a knock at the door from the police saying he was charging me with hit and run. I said wait there must be a misunderstanding. I immediately called the rental office and told them that it was a mistake and I would gladly pay for it. $800 dollars later and a singed waiver from the apartments I paid in full. I just don’t know now what to do with the court appearance.


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