The nature of a typical auto accident is that two vehicles and drivers are involved in the incident. If one of the parties leaves the scene of the accident, this is defined as a "Hit and Run" or "Leaving the scene". When a driver hits and damages a vehicle and leaves the scene he or she is breaking the law.
If a person is in an accident with another vehicle, whether at fault or not, and leaves the scene without stopping to discuss the accident with the other party involved when the other driver is present then the person is knowingly leaving the scene of an accident and may be penalized, if found by police.
Other times a person hits or damages another vehicle in a parking lot or on the street and the owner or driver of the damaged vehicle is not present a driver may be confused about what to do but nonetheless they should leave information behind on the vehicle so that the owner can contact the at fault party. If the driver in a parking lot accident takes off without leaving their contact information this is also against the law.
As a specific state law example, the California DMV notes that if you hit a vehicle you are legally required to try and find the owner if they are not present. If you are unable to find the owner or driver of the car you hit then you have to leave behind, in a conspicuous place, a note with your name, address and an explanation of the accident. If you are driving someone else's car when you strike another person's vehicle or property then you are also required to leave in the note the name and address of person who owns the vehicle you were driving at the time of the accident. Though this is a California law we mentioned here this is good information to use no matter what state you have an accident in where the other driver is not present to collect your information.
California also requires a driver that is in this type of accident to notify the local police by phone or in person as soon as possible after the incident. Many other states have similar laws. There are normally laws or statutes in the state or country where the accident occurs which outline the requirements of those involved in a hit and run accident. A local police officer or your Department of Motor Vehicles should be able to advise you on your specific state's laws and what to do in event of a hit and run, whether you are the driver that did the damage or the one that sustained damage.
Typically state statutes require that a motorist involved in an accident stop and identify himself and give certain information about to the other motorist and to the police. These laws have been upheld as not violating the privilege against self-incrimination on the ground that they call for neutral acts, not intended to be admitting guilt, and pose only an insignificant hazard of self-incrimination.
Hit and Run accidents occur as a result of one or more parties failing to stop after a car accident or other vehicle collision and exchange necessary driver documentation. Drivers should stop if they are involved in an accident, whether you are the at-fault driver or the person that sustained damage. Cars should be looked at by the drivers and pertinent driver information should be exchanged after an accident between one or more vehicles. Driver information normally includes:
- Driver name, address and phone number
- Driver License Number
- VIN (Vehicle Identification Number)
- Insurance provider's name and claims contact information
- Insurance policy number
Leaving the scene of an accident prior to producing the necessary driver documentation is typically considered by law a hit and run accident and may, depending upon specific state laws, could carry criminal charges. You must stop whether the accident involves a pedestrian, a moving car, a parked car, or someone's property. If you drive away, even if the accident was not your fault, you can be charged with the crime of Hit and Run.
As we mentioned earlier, typical auto accident laws require the driver of any vehicle involved in an accident is required to stop the vehicle, locate the owner of the damaged vehicle or property and exchange driver documentation. If you cannot locate the owner or person in charge of the vehicle or property then you should leave a visible note on the vehicle that sustained damage with your pertinent information and file a police report.
For accidents involving serious bodily injury, in addition to producing driver documentation, most state's law requires the driver to render reasonable aid to the injured person. In cases of death, the driver is also usually required to immediately report the accident to the nearest law enforcement office, which may be a Department of your state's Highway Patrol or police station.
Hit and Run Penalties
Penalties for Hit and Run charges vary, depending on the extent of the damage and the driver's criminal driving history.
Misdemeanors are the most common Hit and Run charges and result from minimal property damage with no physical injuries. Typical hit and run misdemeanor penalties carry 6 months in county jail, fines, and victim restitution.
Felonies result when the hit and run incident causes serious bodily injury or death. Hit and Run felony penalties may include several years in prison, thousands of dollars in fines, DMV points and license suspension.
For example in California, a hit and run is considered a misdemeanor and can be punishable by up to one year in jail and/or fines of up to $1000 plus expensive court costs. The penalties are even harsher in most states if anyone is injured. In Wisconsin fleeing the scene of an accident that includes injuries can carry a fine up to $10,000 and a prison term of 42 months
The Accident Report
The accident or crash report taken by law enforcement after a hit and run accident can be the same or more comprehensive than a normal accident write up (report). Ordinarily in a hit and run accident report information about the individual who left the scene is absent (though information given by the damaged party such as license plate number they may have been able to write down may be put on the report) however the report in whole may be more detailed.
Police reports differ by state and sometimes even by county or local jurisdiction so there is no one approved accident report or hit and run report. In general an accident report lists the relevant and important information about the driver(s) and incident. An accident report usually includes personal and insurance information on the driver(s) involved in accident, the drivers' description of the accident and any witness information and their accident description. It then lists if anyone was injured and what property damage was sustained by each vehicle. A diagram of the car and the accident scene normally also will be on the report. There may be an extra area for the officer to fill out if it was a hit and run or it may just be a box for him or her to check and then put in any information the driver that remained on the scene can give on the car that left, if the vehicle or driver that did the damage was seen.
If police cannot come to the scene of the accident, or in some cases certain jurisdictions choose not to come to a minor parking lot accident, then a driver report of the accident may need to be filled out. States such as California and Wisconsin have these forms online at their DMV and DOT websites respectively.
The crash report is needed to document the event since there is the possibility of criminal charges being filed if the person who left the scene is found. There will be no identification of the person unless the police are able to locate the driver that fled the scene. The report is also helpful to have and turn into your insurance company as proof that the incident occurred in the manner that you described to your claims adjuster.
This article is not intended to render legal advice, but is for the benefit of the general public and is informational only.
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