Prevalence of hit-and-run crashes
According to an investigative report by ABC News, hit-and-run fatalities have reached an all-time high. When hit-and-run drivers are caught, ABC found that many are able to avoid jail time. The penalties that are imposed vary widely from state to state. Even in states in which the penalties have been increased, prosecutors still have the discretion to offer plea deals that limit or avoid incarceration even in cases in which the victims are killed.
ABC notes that the penalties that may be imposed may differ based on the position of the victims. For example, ABC reported on one case in New York in which a drunk driver hit a homeless man and fled the scene. The driver was given a plea offer in which he entered a treatment program and will be placed on probation. He was not sentenced to serve any jail time. In a different case, a driver who was involved in an accident involving a fatality and who did not flee the scene is facing time in prison. The attorney representing both clients said that political pressure on the prosecutor or the victim’s affluence can cause people to face prison time even when they did not flee the scene.
In 2016 in California, 337 people were killed by hit-and-run drivers. The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety reports that there was a total of 2,049 hit-and-run deaths during that year across the country, and hit-and-run crashes happened roughly every 43 seconds.
Bicycle hit-and-run accidents in Los Angeles have also seen a dramatic increase. In the past decade, they have increased by 42 percent. This may be attributed to the fact that many more people are choosing to ride their bicycles to and from work so that they can reduce their carbon footprint. People have also become more health conscious and are choosing to ride bicycles as a form of recreation and exercise.
AAA identified several factors that contribute to hit-and-run collisions, including the following:
- Victim characteristics
- Environmental factors, including road geometry, location, and lighting
- Driver characteristics
- Motivation to flee
Pedestrians and bicyclists are likelier to be seriously injured or killed in hit-and-run collisions. Drivers who collide with pedestrians or bicyclists are more likely to flee because they are less likely to get caught. When a driver collides into another car, the damage to his or her vehicle may prevent him or her from leaving the scene. There also may be more witnesses present who can get the license plate and report the perpetrator to the police.
The age of the victims is somewhat predictive of whether the hit-and-run drivers will ultimately be caught. Drivers who hit young children and elderly adults are likelier to be caught than those who hit people who are between the ages of 31 and 55.
Environmental factors have also been linked to hit-and-run crashes. Areas that are poorly lit or that have poor road geometry may make it difficult for drivers to see pedestrians or bicyclists. Some drivers who hit people in locations with few witnesses may fail to stop, believing that they will not be caught.
Driver characteristics of hit-and-run drivers show that young, male drivers are likelier to flee the scenes of accidents that they cause. These drivers normally have a history of DWI convictions and may be motivated to flee in order to avoid going to jail. Drivers who flee the scenes of accidents are between two and nine times more likely to have been drunk at the time of their collisions.
How to protect yourself
Many states have strengthened their laws on hit-and-run accidents, including California. One new law, AB 1755, was enacted in California in 2019. Under this law, the felony hit-and-run law has been extended to include bicyclists who flee the scenes of accidents on bicycle paths. They are now required to remain at the scene of the accident and may face felony charges if they flee from an accident in which a person was injured or killed.
Even with stricter laws, it is still important for you to take steps to protect yourself from hit-and-run accidents. If you will be walking or cycling, try to stay in well-lit areas. If you are walking or cycling at night, make certain to use reflective tape on your clothing and lights on your bicycle. You should avoid wearing dark clothes at night when you are walking or cycling.
You can also install a dashboard camera in case a driver hits your car and then tries to flee. You might be able to record video footage that captures an image of the driver’s license plate and car make and model.
What to do after a hit-and-run accident
If you are struck by a driver who subsequently flees the accident scene, try to write down the vehicle’s color, make, model, and license plate number. Look for any witnesses and ask them to stay to talk to the police. Call 911 for help, and check yourself and any others for injuries.
Call your insurance company. Even if the driver is not caught, you may still be able to recover compensation under your own policy if you have underinsured and uninsured motorist coverage. If you do not have UM/UIM coverage, it is a good idea for you to add it onto your existing policy. This type of insurance coverage covers your losses when you are involved in an accident with a driver who is uninsured or underinsured, including hit-and-run drivers who are either never found or who do not have insurance.
Contact the Law Offices of Steven M. Sweat
Dealing with the aftermath of a hit-and-run accident can be overwhelming. You may be left to deal with serious injuries and property losses. If your loved one was killed in an accident, you may be left dealing with grief combined with mounting expenses and income losses. Getting help from an experienced hit-and-run lawyer might help you to recover compensation for your losses. An attorney may be able to help you to track down the at-fault driver. Even if the driver is caught and faces criminal charges, you are allowed to file a simultaneous civil lawsuit against him or her. This may allow you to recover compensation regardless of what happens in his or her criminal case.
If you have to file a claim with your own insurance company, dealing with the claim can be frustrating. The attorneys at the Law Offices of Steven M. Sweat are able to help you with your UM/UIM insurance claims. To learn more about your claim, schedule a free consultation today by calling us at 866.966.5240.