Reporting an Accident

Accidents are not uncommon but a person's legal responsibilities following an accident are not always clear. In Iowa, any accident involving property damage in excess of $1,500.00 must be reported to the Iowa Department of Transportation within 72 hours from the accident. A person's legal duty following an accident depends upon the results of the accident.

Injury or Death
If the accident results in injury or death to any person, the driver of a vehicle involved in the accident must, "by the quickest means of communication," provide notice of the accident to the sheriff of the county in which the accident occurred, or the nearest office of the state patrol or other local law enforcement agency. This duty is fulfilled usually by simply calling 9-1-1, to report the accident. The driver of the vehicle must also stop the vehicle at the scene or as close as possible and shall remain on the scene or return to it until law enforcement has had an opportunity to obtain the information necessary to complete an accident report. Failing to comply with these requirements in a death accident is a Class D Felony and failing to comply when injury results is an Aggravated Misdemeanor. In a Vehicular Homicide charge, leaving the scene of the accident can result in the the person being required to serve 70% of their sentence before being eligible for parole.

Property Damage to Another Vehicle
If another vehicle is involved in the accident and that vehicle is either being driven or is "attended" at the time of the collision, the driver must stop and remain on the scene until an accident report can be completed or the required driver information is exchanged. If the other vehicle involved in the accident is not attended and parked, the driver is required to immediately stop and shall either locate and notify the owner of the struck vehicle or must leave a written notice providing the name and address of the driver and owner of the vehicle that struck their car as well as a statement explaining what happened.

Single Vehicle Accident – No Injury or Death
A common occurrence in Iowa, especially during the winter, is a single vehicle accident where nobody is injured or killed and no property damage is done to another vehicle. These types of accidents are not uncommon, whether due to weather, deer or other circumstances. If a person is involved in a single vehicle accident that does not result in injury or death to another person, there is no requirement that they remain on the scene of the accident or even report the accident that same night. It must only be reported if the accident resulted in more than $1,500.00 in damage and in that event, it must be done within 72 hours. If law enforcement investigates the accident, they will file the report. However, the driver of the vehicle, may on their own, report the accident as well. (DOT Form)

A question that is frequently raised in single vehicle accidents is "What if I do not want to incriminate myself?" That is an excellent question to be asking following an accident and something that should be at the forefront of a person's mind especially if alcohol was consumed prior to the accident. A driver, NEVER has to admit to conduct that may result in criminal liability. In fact, Iowa law, in addition to the 5th Amendment to the United States Constitution, specifically states that a driver and/or owner of a vehicle involved in an accident is not required to supply information to a police officer if the owner believes the information may be self incriminating. Also, accident reports and the contents of those reports are by law, confidential and may not be used as evidence in any civil or criminal case arising out of the facts on which the report is based. Thus, a person may report an accident truthfully by submitting the required report and any statements made in that report cannot be used to prosecute them for a crime.

A common practice by law enforcement agencies that is being used more and more, is to impound a persons vehicle until the "driver comes in and claims the vehicle." This is merely a ploy by law enforcement to determine who was driving the vehicle when they have no other evidence to establish that fact. In these situations, the driver, or other concerned individual, is well-advised to involve an attorney to ensure that their legal rights are properly respected. A knowledgeable attorney can assist the individual in complying with the reporting requirements while still preventing them from incriminating themselves.