Leaving the scene of an accident is a criminal offense in most jurisdictions. The severity of punishments for hit-and-run accidents can vary. The extent of the damage and whether someone suffered injuries play a role. Courts might also offer some clemency if the person turns themselves in voluntarily and not long after the incident.
Why Do People Commit Hit-and-Runs?
Panic is likely the number one reason people take off after hitting a car. People are especially likely to panic if the accident occurs during other activities that involve some fault, such as driving while drunk. Here are some examples of reasons people have given for fleeing the scene.
Driving Without Insurance
Some states only require minimum insurance coverage that is not enough to cover the amount of damage done in an accident. People who don’t want to get caught driving without adequate insurance might flee the scene instead of stopping and potentially exposing themselves to prosecution.
Not Having a License
Hit-and-run drivers might not have a valid driver’s license or they might be driving a vehicle outside their licensing, such as a semi-truck. Getting involved in a hit-and-run accident on a suspended license could lead to total revocation of driving privileges.
Driving a Stolen Vehicle
If someone is driving a stolen vehicle, they might be inclined to flee the scene of an accident rather than being identified. Persons might choose to do this even if they “borrowed” the vehicle without asking permission from family members or friends. The police can use vehicle identification numbers and even physical descriptions to track down the owner.
A driver who hits another vehicle may not even realize it happened if they were influenced by alcohol or drugs. They could also be so drunk that they confuse the car with a building, tree or another stationary object. This could cause them to not assess the damage and simply keep driving.
Hit-and-run drivers commonly claim they thought they hit a deer instead of a person. Leaving the scene after hitting a deer is not illegal. How often people genuinely believe this happened is up for debate, but it raises some questions about whether people should stop to determine what they hit before driving away.
Poor Moral Judgment
It’s hard to accept, but there are some really bad people in the world. They think only of protecting themselves at the expense of others. Some of these persons experience no panic in response to the incident. They move quickly into “damage control” and self-preservation mode.
What If You Had a Good Reason for Fleeing the Scene?
People can become extremely violent after a car crash. Persons known for road rage issues and people driving expensive or unique cars are especially likely to become angry after a collision. Things can escalate at the scene if that person has a weapon, such as a firearm. In cases like these, you might have no choice but to flee the scene.
Ideally, you head directly to a police station and attempt to call 911 while on your way. Reporting the accident in this way ― or at least trying to do so ― might help absolve you should the driver later claim you fled the scene.
Sometimes, accidents are so minor that drivers agree not to take action. You might feel relieved, but what guarantee do you have that the person will not do further damage to the vehicle and report it to the police or your insurance company?
If you decide not to involve insurance companies, take photos of the scene before leaving. That makes it difficult for the person to blame you for more significant damage later. You could also ask for a mutual, written agreement that neither of you will pursue insurance claims due to the minor nature of the accident.
It is a good idea to reach out to an experienced attorney. He or she can advise you on what to do. There is no guarantee you can reach an office on such short notice, but there is no harm in trying.
Can You Go To Prison for a Hit-and-Run Accident?
When law enforcement identifies you after a hit-and-run accident, you may face two types of cases. A criminal suit can lead to criminal charges. Whether they lead to a prison sentence depends on the details of the case and the extent of injuries or property damage.
Hit-and-run drivers most commonly receive prison sentences when they leave their victims to die. Sentences for these cases can reach decades in length. In other cases, people accept plea deals and avoid jail time but live under severe restrictions. Failure to abide by these rules could cause them to end up behind bars.
There is also the possibility of a civil suit from injured persons or the survivors of deceased persons. These civil suits help persons reclaim compensation to pay for medical expenses and protect dependents that the persons affected might have cared for. Courts might also take the opportunity to make an example of you via punitive damages.
What Should You Do After a Hit-and-Run Accident?
Good moral judgment suggests that the best approach is immediately returning to the scene. This is especially the case if there is a risk that you might have collided with a pedestrian, cyclist or another vulnerable road user. In many hit-and-run accidents, injured persons would have lived if the hit-and-run driver had provided assistance or called for help.
People who choose not to take the moral high road often consider other factors. For example, they might start to weigh the pros and cons of one type of charge over another. He or she might call a criminal law attorney to determine an appropriate course of action.
Criminal law firms often have people on staff at all hours because criminal accusations do not only happen during business hours. That said, not all criminal defense attorneys will recommend the moral high road over the most likely way to secure freedom and a minor charge.
What Happens to Your Insurance Premium After a Hit-and-Run Accident?
After a hit-and-run accident, your insurance company could determine you are far too high-risk to insure. Searching for new insurance with a hit-and-run record could be challenging. Many other insurance companies will come to the same conclusion and refuse to cover you. In some states, you might need SR-22 insurance.
If your insurance company does continue to cover you, you can expect coverage to increase by as little as 33% in Maryland to as much as 371% in North Carolina. Meanwhile, NerdWallet estimates a 51% average increase across all states for a car accident where the person remained at the scene.
Note that you might not immediately have the privilege of returning to the road. Courts could decide to suspend your license or revoke it altogether. The more catastrophic the case and the worse your negligence, the more likely this is.
Can Siegfried and Jensen Help With Hit-and-Run Accidents?
At Siegfried and Jensen, we have dedicated our careers to helping persons who sustain injuries in hit-and-run crashes and other types of accidents. We do not represent insurance companies and we do not take on criminal law cases. If you or your loved one suffer death or injury in a hit-and-run accident, we would love to hear from you. Contact us for a free case review.