When you think of hit and run accidents do you imagine a vehicle speeding through a red light, striking a pedestrian and zooming off? There are hit and runs where someone is bodily injured, but many hit and run accidents involve someone hitting a parked car and driving off.
No one enjoys fessing up to a mistake like hitting something with a vehicle. Wanting to flee is a natural response to conflict, punishment or negative experiences. But that response is also highly illegal, even if no one is there to witness it.
It’s important for every driver to understand the seriousness of hit and run accidents. It can do real harm to others and cost you your drivers license.
Some Hard-Hitting Hit and Run Statistics
More than 1 hit and run accident occurs every minute in the U.S.
In 2016 alone there were 2,049 known hit and run fatalities in America.
On average, there are 682,000 hit and run accidents each year.
The three states with the highest hit and run fatality rates per capita are New Mexico, Louisiana and Florida.
20% of pedestrian deaths in the last 10 years were caused by hit and runs.
What is a Hit and Run?
Cars are getting safer, but one safety concern has actually gotten much worse. Since 2009, hit and run deaths have increased at a rate of 7.2% each year. Across the board hit and runs accidents are increasing, or as executive director of the AAA Dr. David Yang puts it, “Hit and run crashes in the United States are trending in the wrong direction.”
Hit and runs include any accident where a vehicle hits a person, object or vehicle and the driver knowingly leaves the scene without providing their information.
Most states consider an accident a hit and run even if the accident does not occur on a road or highway. In fact, 69% of hit and run claims involved parked cars, according to Allstate reports in 2010. Given the increase in accidents overall, this number has undoubtedly gone up since then.
The Exception to the Hit and Run Rule
There is an exception for property and vehicular accidents if no one is around and you leave your information then file a police report. That would not be considered a hit and run—even though you leave the scene.
Whatever You Do, Don’t Leave an Accident Scene!
An auto accident may not be your fault. However, leaving the scene of the accident is a crime itself that’s 100% on you. Leaving the scene can lead to:
Extra or increased charges
Points on your record
Additional penalties could include getting special SR-22 insurance. That’s the same insurance associated with DUI’s. SR-22 insurance is very expensive and required for 1-10 years after a conviction.
What to Do if the Accident Only Involves Another Vehicle or Property Damage
Accidentally scrape another car in the parking lot? Even if no one is hurt and the property owner isn’t around you still need to take responsibility. If the property owner is there you both need to stay on-site and get a police report filed. Doing so will prevent any sort of hit and run allegation.
If you cause any damage to a property or vehicle:
Stop and assess the damage on your vehicle and whatever was hit. If someone is injured call 9-1-1 immediately.
Take photos of the damage and scene.
Vehicle inspection: Note the license plate, make and model of the other vehicle.
Property: Take down the address or location and a few notes on the description.
See if you can find the owner nearby if they aren’t at the accident scene. If you hit a parked car there’s a good chance the owner either lives within eyeshot or is shopping at a nearby store. Before you walk away from the accident to look for the owner leave a note on the vehicle/property with your name and number in case they come back before you.
Affix a detailed note with your information to the damaged object if you can’t find the property owner. Leave your name, phone number, email address and license plate number.
File a police report. This is a precautionary step that will keep you out of hit and run hot water. Voluntarily reporting the accident to the police is the right thing to do and will minimize the repercussions of a moving violation if you were the at-fault party.
You may also want to file a report with your insurance. If the property owner requests money for damages your insurance policy may cover it.
You Are Legally Required to Stop and Help If You Hit Someone
It can happen to anyone. You are driving along and suddenly someone steps into the street. Or, you spill coffee on your lap and don't notice the cyclist who just turned into the roadway in front of you. It is a terrifying scenario. But, if it happens, stay calm and handle the situation the best you can.
If you are involved in an accident with a pedestrian or cyclist call 9-1-1 right away. Even if the person feels okay they need to be evaluated by a medical professional. Stay on the scene and wait for the first responders to arrive.
When you’re involved in an accident and a person’s injury is worsened because you failed to act it can lead to harsher charges, including vehicular manslaughter. If you are the cause of injury, you have a duty to rescue or help the person if safely able.
Temporarily leaving the scene of an accident to get help or increase safety is not usually considered a hit and run provided you return to the scene. If your car is in a dangerous place you can move to the shoulder or nearby parking lot without worrying about a hit and run charge.
Hit and Run Laws
If you get a moving violation you can remove the points on your license by taking a defensive driving course, but a hit and run is a more serious offense. It’s the type of offense that can easily come with jail time, very hefty fines and drivers license limitations.
Hit and run laws vary from state to state. They can be traffic infractions, misdemeanors or felonies depending on the severity of the accident, total amount of property damage, and cause of the accident. One thing is consistent in every state - the consequences for a hit and run are much worse than stopping and taking responsibility.
Besides, getting away with a hit and run is much more difficult than many people think. Consider how many parking lot cameras and doorbell cameras are used today. Or how many potential witnesses there were that you didn’t notice. Some people have even attempted to file a false report to cover up a hit and run, only to find they now have an additional false insurance claim charge.
Hit and Run Insurance Issues
Another consideration is your insurance policy. A hit and run incurs higher criminal penalties, perhaps leading to jail time or a suspended license. Many accidents where you stop is just a moving violation fine at most.
The same logic applies to your insurance rates. A hit and run insurance increase is far worse than properly reporting an accident because you’ll be seen as a larger liability. And a larger liability means larger premiums.
Is it a Hit and Run if I Hit an Animal?
There are an estimated million animals killed on American roads every day. Sometimes it’s a wild animal and other times it’s someone’s pet. Regardless, it’s still a hit and run if you do not stop and provide information or report the incident after hitting an animal.
What Should I do if I Hit an Animal?
It’s easy to forget that in many regards we share the road with animals. As we pave the way for transportation, it disrupts natural habitats to a certain degree. But over time some animals become very comfortable around roads, and most have to cross roads to get where they are going.
Given how much animal activity happens around roads, you may find yourself in an accident with another species. If you hit an animal you should:
- Stop the moment you realize you hit an animal. Make sure your car is out of the road a safe distance.
- Turn on your hazard lights or set up road signals. This is an important safety precaution no matter what type of road you’re on.
- Call the police or emergency services. If you kill a small wild animal, like a squirrel or skunk, you don’t have to call the police.
- Don’t approach the animal before help arrives. Hurt animals can be dangerous, so do not approach them if it seems unsafe.
- Take photographs of the scene for insurance and police reports. If it’s a deer, livestock, horse or another large animal then it’s likely your car took damage.
What Happens if I Hit an Animal?
Whether it is a neighborhood pet, livestock or a wild animal you must stop. Hitting an animal and not stopping is classified as a hit and run in most states. Exceptions are for small wild animals and birds. However, you should move the body to the side so scavengers aren’t drawn into the road.
Most often, the driver will not be found “at fault” for hitting an animal unless the accident happened because of the driver’s negligence. Leaving the scene can still lead to charges in states without animal hit and run laws. Charges can include:
Animal cruelty - Animal cruelty charges can include directly causing harm and failure to act.
Failure to report an accident.
Failing to leave information as you would with property damage.
Hitting a domestic pet, horse or livestock animal without stopping, helping and reporting “property damage” is a misdemeanor in California. It’s one of a few states where pets are legally regarded as property. Pet owners may file civil suits for wrongful death, animal abuse or property damage if a driver hits their animal and keeps going without stopping.
Whether it’s a person, animal or object if you hit something with your vehicle you need to stop. It’s never okay to keep going, even if you didn’t see exactly what you hit. Remember, mistakes happen but a hit-and-run is intentional.
*This article was updated on 7/28/2020.