Traffic law refers to a hit and run as a crime in which a driver causes or is involved in a collision with another vehicle, property, or person, then fails to stop and provide the following:

  • Their name;
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  • Their driver’s license number;
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  • The name of their insurance provider;
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  • Their insurance policy number;
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  • Their license plate number; and
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  • Any other information required by statute.

This information must be provided to the injured party, as well as a witness and law enforcement officers. If there is only property damage, and no physical person has been hurt, it may be sufficient to attach a note to the damaged property, detailing the above information. 

This would not count as a hit and run because you did not fail to provide your information in order to claim responsibility. Although state laws differ, it is pretty consistent that parties involved in any accidents are required to stop and exchange information with each other. Some states require that the offending party also file a police report, in addition to leaving their information regardless of whether the parties involved want to.

What are the Penalties for a Hit and Run?

The reasons why a person may commit a hit and run are numerable. The most common reason is that the driver does not have adequate auto insurance, or is wanted for other crimes. Many vehicle accidents also result in a traffic citation if the accident occurred because of distracted driving.

The penalties for a hit and run charge vary from state to state. A hit and run accident could also lead to more serious criminal charges, rather than a simple traffic citation. Hit and run accidents that result in major property damage are often misdemeanors with fines of up to $5,000, one year in jail, or both. Additionally, nearly every state also imposes administrative penalties related to the offending party’s license. 

Offending drivers may also find themselves facing a civil lawsuit for damages, if the other driver sustains any personal or property injuries and decides to sue the offender. The plaintiff may also find themselves entitled to a monetary award meant to compensate them for any incurred medical expenses, damage to their vehicle, emotional distress, and other types of damages. The offending driver would be responsible for these additional awarded damages.

Hit and run crimes that involve serious bodily harm, serious property damage, evading the police, or death, may result in felony hit and run charges, instead of misdemeanor hit and run charges. Some jurisdictions organize felony hit and run charges into various degrees, such as “a felony in the fifth degree.” 

How Do the Police Track Down the Driver in a Hit and Run?

The police primarily utilize evidence and eye witnesses when attempting to track down the driver involved in a hit and run accident. As soon as you have called them and made your complaint, they attempt to preserve as much evidence from the collision scene as possible. 

This evidence includes footage obtained from surrounding surveillance cameras, especially in parking lots and parking garages. Local businesses may also be a source of surveillance camera footage that could lead to identifying the vehicle that caused the collision.

Another source of evidence may come in the form of videos obtained by witnesses on their cell phones. So many people carry a phone with a camera that this is becoming more common form of evidence. A dashboard camera may also be another source of footage to be used as evidence. Vehicle and property damage, such as the paint left behind when the hit and run was committed, are other forms of evidence.

Witnesses are often invaluable assets when the police are attempting to track down the driver responsible for a hit and run collision. Eyewitnesses often make their own accident reports in addition to the report made by the affected driver. They often have noted or photographed the license plate number belonging to the responsible vehicle, and can provide a description of the responsible vehicle, such as color, make, model, etc. People in the parking lot, other drivers in the area, pedestrians, and employees of nearby businesses may be able to provide important information.

Are There Any Defenses for a Hit and Run?

It may prove to be very difficult to find any legal defenses to a hit and run accident. The defenses that do exist, do not always provide a complete release from any liability resulting from your decision to flee the scene. These include:  

  • Involuntary Intoxication or Diminished Capacity: If you believe you were drugged, you could use involuntary intoxication as a defense to your hit and run charge. 

    • An example of this would be if you believe you were drugged, which resulted in you becoming involuntarily intoxicated, and then became involved in the hit and run accident. It is very unlikely that this defense could be used successfully, although it has been used;
  • Responding to an Emergency: Responding to an emergency may be an effective defense, if you fled the accident scene because you were driving to the hospital (or elsewhere) because of an emergency, such as driving someone in labor to the hospital. 

    • Ultimately, it is up to the authorities of that specific jurisdiction to determine whether the circumstances constituted an actual emergency so as to excuse your failure to remain at the scene and provide required information; or
  • Lack of Knowledge: This defense comes into play when a person leaves a car accident scene thinking there has been no damage to property, or injuries to people. These drivers could still be found responsible for negligence or reckless driving. Additionally, it could be difficult to establish that the driver was completely and totally unaware that they caused injury to someone else, or damage, with their vehicle.

What Should I Do If I Am Involved in a Hit and Run?

The most important thing to do if involved in a hit and run, whether the victim or the offending driver, is to not leave the scene of the accident. Even if only minor damage is involved, it is important to remain at the scene. Stop the vehicle after the accident and call the police to report the accident. Exchange information with the other driver if possible, such as names, addresses, and insurance information. 

Further, if you are the victim, immediately note everything you can recall about the other driver and their vehicle, should they flee and the police find themselves needing such details. No matter the circumstances of the accident, you should ask any witnesses to remain and wait for the police to arrive.

If you have accidentally caused damage to someone’s property while they are not around, such as hitting a parked car, it is your responsibility to leave a note with your contact information. You should include your name, phone number, insurance provider, and any other contact information. Alternatively, you may want to contact the police and have them document the accident, especially if it appears that extensive damage has occurred.

Do I Need a Lawyer if I Have Been Charged with a Hit and Run?

It is in your best interest to contact a skilled and knowledgeable criminal defense attorney if you are being charged with a hit and run. They will help you understand your state’s specific laws regarding the matter, and will help you determine any defenses available to your case. 

Additionally, if you are the victim of a hit and run accident, a personal injury attorney will help you determine your best course of action, such as filing a civil lawsuit in order to recover any available damages, and guide you throughout the entire legal process.