A driver commits a "hit-and-run" offense by failing to stop at the scene of a collision that results in property damage or injury or death to a person. The duties of a driver who's involved in an accident—and the penalties for failing to perform such duties—typically depend on the seriousness and other circumstances of the accident.
The laws of all states impose certain obligations on drivers who are involved in an accident. These laws vary by state and the particulars of the accident itself. This article provides an overview of the common elements of hit-and-run offenses, the common duties of a driver following a collision, and the consequences of a hit-and-run conviction.
Generally, a driver who's involved in a collision resulting in damage to another vehicle that's driven or attended is required to stop and remain at the scene of the collision. Most states require the driver to provide the following information to the other driver or a passenger in the other vehicle:
Though the details of state laws vary, the requirement of providing this basic information following an accident is standard in all states.
A driver who's involved in a collision resulting in damage to an unattended vehicle is usually required to remain at the scene and attempt to locate the operator or owner of the unattended vehicle. If these efforts are successful, the driver must then provide the operator or owner of the unattended vehicle of the driver's name and address, insurance, and vehicle information. If, however, the operator or owner of the other vehicle can't be located, the laws of most states require the driver to leave a note in a conspicuous place on the unattended vehicle. The note should include the same identifying information of the driver and his or her vehicle and a statement explaining the circumstances of the collision.
When a driver is involved in an accident resulting in damage to fixtures or property on or adjacent to a highway, most states require the driver to take reasonable steps to locate the owner or person in charge of the property. If located, the driver must notify the owner or person in charge of the property of the driver's name, address, insurance, and vehicle information. Otherwise, the driver is generally required to leave a written notice containing the same information in a conspicuous place on the property.
Drivers who are involved in an accident resulting in injury or death to a person typically must remain at the scene and provide reasonable assistance to any person injured in the accident. This assistance generally includes making arrangements for medical treatment if such treatment is necessary or requested by the injured person(s). Usually, the driver is also required to provide his or her name, address, insurance, and vehicle information to the injured person, the other driver, or a passenger in the other vehicle.
In some states, the driver additionally has the duty to remain at the scene until a police officer arrives and takes down the driver's information if all persons who would otherwise receive the information are deceased or are unable to receive the driver's information. However, this requirement is generally inapplicable if the driver needs medical care or is securing medical care for an injured person. But drivers who leave the accident scene under such circumstances must report the accident to a police officer.
A few states require a driver who injures or kills a domestic animal to stop at the scene, determine the animal's injuries, provide assistance to the injured animal, and report the injury to the animal's owner. And if the animal's owner can't be located, the driver is generally required to notify a police officer.
In some states, a witness to an accident that results in injury, death, or damage to a driven or attended vehicle is required to provide the driver, occupant, or injured person with the witness's true name and address.
States differ with regard to how they categorize and punish hit-and-run offenses. However, in most states, a hit-and-run accident resulting in property damage is a misdemeanor. Depending on the state, a misdemeanor hit-and-run might result in up to a year in jail and a maximum fine of $1,000 or more.
Hit-and-run collisions that result in injury or death to a person, on the other hand, typically lead to felony charges. A felony hit-and-run conviction could lead to significantly more severe penalties than those for a misdemeanor. For example, in Oregon, a conviction for a hit-and-run offense that resulted in serious physical injury or death carries a sentence of up to ten years in prison and a maximum $250,000 fine.
(Also, read about the penalties for a DUI-related hit-and-run offense.)