In a society that encourages people to take responsibility for their actions, a surprising number don’t. The rate for hit and run accidents continues to rise in the U.S. According to a study by the American Automobile Association, approximately 11 percent of automobile crashes (a startling one out of ten) involve a driver who flees the scene. What makes this even worse is that these hit and runs often involve fatalities – meaning that in many cases, lives could have been saved if the accidents were promptly reported. Approximately 1400 people die each year in this manner (and approximately 850 of these are pedestrians) and they account for one in five traffic fatalities.
Because the vast majority of these hit and runs (sixty percent) occur on weekends (Friday through Sunday) and in the evenings, most traffic experts presume that the primary reason for leaving the scene is that the perpetrator is driving impaired – that is, intoxicated with drugs or alcohol and is afraid of the accumulated penalties for the accident. (Another reason is the driver lacks a license. The AA has determined that unlicensed drivers are 66% more likely to leave the scene.)
What is disturbing about these hit and runs, is that in many states, the DUI driver who runs often receives a lesser penalty than the DUI driver who stays and faces the music. For example, a study by the Denver Post determined that the laws in that state tended to punish a drunken driver who causes a serious accident far more harshly than a driver who hits and runs.
To learn more, see What are the penalties for a DUI hit and run?
In 2008, Colorado increased penalties for hit and run drivers who cause fatalities. In 2012, Pennsylvania did the same, boosting the maximum sentence for a fatal hit and run to ten years. Still, lawmakers in Pennsylvania acknowledge that, based on minimum sentencing standards there, a DUI driver could get a shorter sentence (by at least two years) by leaving the scene, and acknowledging the accident later (after evidence of alcohol impairment is gone). As with all driving laws, the penalties for a hit and run vary from state to state. Typically fleeing from the scene of an accident (the hit and run) is treated as a secondary or subsequent crime. For example, the driver has committed a crime such as driving recklessly, or driving under the influence, and then commits the second crime of fleeing the scene. Every state prohibits fleeing from the scene of an accident, although the standards may vary. Generally a state law prohibits fleeing the scene in the event of injury to death to anyone involved in the accident (usually excluding the driver). Most states also require the driver to stop at the scene where there is property damage. For example, Delaware requires the driver to stop when the collision results in “apparent damage to property.” Usually, if the damage is only to the driver’s vehicle and there are no injuries, the driver need not remain at the scene. They statutes typically enhance the punishment in cases of fatalities. For example, the charge may jump from misdemeanor (fleeing the scene when there is personal injury) to felony (fleeing the scene that involves a fatality, or in some cases, a serious physical injury).
Not only is your insurance likely to be revoked if you flee the scene, but it may be voided for this particular incident – that is you will have no insurance coverage because leaving the scene violated the rules of your insurance policy. Expect your license to automatically (and often permanently) revoked. In addition, those who aid and abet a hit and run, for example, by using a power washer to clean off the blood and glass, can also be charged with the crime of evidence tampering.