Hit-and-run accidents occur more frequently than you might imagine. Nearly 700,000 hit-and-run incidents occur each year, resulting in thousands of fatalities, according to a 2018 AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety report.
Hit-and-run laws vary, but all states require drivers involved in traffic accidents to remain at the scene and follow the procedures mandated by law. Motorists who flee the scene of an accident can be charged with a hit-and-run offense, typically punishable by a fine, a prison term, or both.
Victims of hit-and-run drivers can face car-repair bills and medical expenses. If they don’t have the right types of auto insurance coverages, they could be left with costly out-of-pocket expenses. All automobile owners need to know the legal penalties for leaving the scene of an accident, what to do after a hit-and-run, and which car insurance coverage can help pay for hit-and-run expenses.
- A hit-and-run accident is one where a driver leaves the scene without stopping, exchanging information with other parties, or helping anyone who was injured.
- Leaving the scene of an accident, even a single-car incident, is a crime. Penalties vary by state and type of accident.
- Some car insurance coverages pay for damages caused by hit-and-run accidents. For example, collision coverage may pay to repair damage to your vehicle caused by a driver who fled the scene.
What Is a Hit-and-Run?
Typically, a “hit and run” is an accident in which the driver of a vehicle leaves the scene without stopping, exchanging contact information with other involved parties, helping injured people, or reporting the accident. Hit-and-runs don’t always involve multiple drivers. For example, a lone motorist may leave the scene after hitting a pedestrian in a crosswalk, a parked car, or other property, such as a building or fence.
All states have hit-and-run laws that prohibit leaving the scene of an accident. Usually, these laws determine the severity of a hit-and-run incident based on whether anyone sustained bodily injuries, as well as the amount of any property damage. Penalties vary by state and accident severity. A hit-and-run that results in minor property damage may warrant a misdemeanor charge, while serious property damage or bodily injury accidents can lead to felony convictions. Hit-and-run penalties can include a fine, jail time, or both.
State laws generally consider livestock and pets to be personal property, which means hit-and-run laws may apply if you hit someone’s cow or dog.
What Types of Insurance Cover Hit-and-Runs?
If you are the victim of a hit-and-run driver, only a few types of car insurance coverage can help pay your expenses:
- Collision: Collision insurance pays to repair your automobile when it’s involved in a collision. If you’re the victim of a hit-and-run accident, collision coverage may pay for the damage, minus your deductible. If law enforcement locates the driver who hit your car, you may be able to recoup your deductible.
- Uninsured motorist: Uninsured motorist bodily injury coverage can help pay medical expenses following a hit-and-run accident. If you carry uninsured motorist property damage coverage, it may help pay some of the costs of repairing your vehicle, depending on your state. Some states require all drivers to carry uninsured motorist coverage. Even if your state doesn’t require it, you may want to consider adding this valuable protection to your policy.
- Medical payments and personal injury protection (PIP): Medical payments and PIP coverages help pay medical expenses for you and your passengers, regardless of who was at fault, including in hit-and-runs. Some states require PIP coverage, which may also pay lost wages and rehabilitation expenses.
Comprehensive coverage only pays for losses caused by non-collision events, like auto theft or hail damage. It typically won’t cover any hit-and-run costs.
What To Do in a Hit-and-Run
In a normal traffic accident in which all drivers stop and stay on the scene, you may have a moment to catch a breath and gather your thoughts before collecting the other driver’s information, contacting law enforcement, and documenting any damage. But after a hit-and run accident, you need to act quickly.
- If anyone is injured, render first aid to the best of your ability.
- Call 911 as soon as possible to request an ambulance if people are injured and to alert law enforcement.
- Take note of as much information as possible about the hit-and-run driver’s car, including its license plate number, make, and model; the direction it fled; and any noticeable damage. Also jot down the exact time and location of the accident.
- Take photos or videos of all damage and injuries.
- Ask any bystanders or stopped motorists if they witnessed the crash. Collect their contact information and statements and request that they remain at the scene to give statements when the police arrive.
- File a police report by following local procedures. You may be able to file an accident report over the phone, at a police station, or online. Some state and local laws require you to file an accident report for any accident that involves bodily injuries or a certain amount of property damage.
- Contact your insurance company as soon as possible to file a claim. Typically, an agent or claims representative will need all the information you collected, including documentation from the scene, witness contact information and statements, and a police report.
What Not To Do After a Hit-and-Run
Don’t take matters into your own hands by following the hit-and-run driver. You shouldn’t leave the scene of the accident, even if the other driver fled. Don’t delay contacting your insurance company or law enforcement.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
How do you report a hit-and-run?
Call 911 or your local non-emergency police line immediately to alert law enforcement. File an accident report with the police department in the jurisdiction in which the crash occurred. As soon as possible, contact your insurance company to report the accident and file a claim.
What do police do in a hit-and-run?
Police procedures can differ by location. Typically, after you report a hit-and-run, a police officer will arrive at the scene to take a report. Some police departments have special hit-and-run investigative units. Investigators will interview police officers who arrived at the scene of the accident, review crash evidence and witness statements, and try to identify the hit-and-run driver to bring them to justice.
How long after a hit-and-run can you be charged?
Statutes of limitations vary by state, and numerous conditions may apply to charges. For instance, in California, a hit-and-run driver who causes serious injuries or death must be charged within three years of the offense, or up to one year after they are identified, whichever is later. But the offender cannot be charged later than six years following the accident.