Every year, about 6 million car accidents occur on U.S. roads. And up to 3 million of those involved sustain injuries.
But that’s not all. The number of hit and run car accident fatalities is also on the rise – 2,049 in 2016 to be exact. That’s more than an 11% increase from 2015, and almost 23% from 2014!
Granted, some hit-and-run accidents are only fender benders. But they can still cause serious injuries, such as whiplash. It may even cause victims constant and disabling anxiety or fear of being on the road.
That’s why it’s best to arm yourself with the knowledge of what to do in a hit and run. That way, you can protect your rights and increase your chances of finding the person at fault.
This post will guide you through the process, so be sure to keep reading!
The Lowdown on Hit and Run Accidents
First things first: What is a hit and run accident and what do U.S. laws have to say about it?
A hit and run occurs when someone involved in an auto accident “flees” the scene. That accident can involve another vehicle, a stationary object, or a pedestrian.
“Fleeing” here means not stopping to help a potential victim of the accident. Even if no one got hurt, it’s still a hit-and-run so long as there was a collision and you didn’t identify yourself. For instance, this can be backing into a parked car or a crashing into a road sign and then driving away.
States have varying laws when it comes to penalties for hit and run cases. But most either classify it as misdemeanor or felony, based on the circumstances. If someone got hurt during the accident and the driver flees the scene, that’s a felony.
Even misdemeanor hit-and-run cases have severe punishment and penalties. In some states, like Washington, a misdemeanor can rack up fines of up to $5,000. Here’s a page where you can get more information about car accident law and a more in-depth look at penalties.
What Victims Should Do after a Hit and Run Car Accident
If you find yourself a hit-and-run victim, try your best to remain calm and then do the following:
If you’re in your car when someone collides with it, the first thing you’ll likely feel is shock. That can make you feel numb, so you may not even realize you’re already bleeding or have broken bones.
So, as soon as the initial shock wears away, dial 911, especially if there’s heavy bleeding involved. Make sure you check your passengers for injuries too.
Also, avoid moving your car except if it’s interfering with traffic. If you need to, move it to a safer spot on the side of the road.
List Down as Much as You Can about the Other Car
Try to recall as many details about the vehicle that fled the scene and if you can, list them down. It would help the hit and run investigation process if you can remember the other car’s plate number. Other details to note include the other vehicle’s color, make, and model.
Any other characteristics of the other car, like a sticker on the rear windshield, would also help. Even smaller details, like a damaged bumper, can also help the police trim their list of suspects.
Report the Accident to the Police
Reporting a hit and run is a must in all states, since it’s a type of a crime, even in misdemeanor cases. You should call the police as soon as you can or within 24 hours from the time of the accident. This way, the police would have higher chances of finding the offending driver.
Besides, the sooner you file a police report, the more details you’re likely to remember.
That’s because during accidents, our brains focus on creating a fight-or-flight response. This compromises the memory-making ability of the brain. As a result, you may forget many details of the accident.
Also, if the damage is minor, the police may not go to the scene of your accident. Instead, they may ask you to file a report at the nearest station. This is where you’ll file an official driver report about the hit and run case.
It’s imperative to file a police report even if you only sustained minor injuries. First, because it allows police to charge offending drivers and punish them accordingly. This may help keep them from committing the same crime.
Second, your insurance company may open its own investigation. One of the first things they’ll ask for is the police report. If you can’t give them one, then you may not receive coverage for injuries or property damage.
Gather Witness Accounts and Take Photos of the Scene
While waiting for the police, look around for any possible witnesses. If you find some, ask for their contact information as the police and your auto insurer may call them. They may have even seen the driver or the license plate of the offending vehicle.
You should also take photos of the scene and your vehicle, which you can give to the police and your insurer. Get photos in different angles as well.
Call Your Insurance Company
As soon as you’re done filing the police report, ring up your insurance company. Tell them everything you can about the hit and run accident. Fax or email them the police report, the details you’ve noted down, and the photos you took.
Protect Yourself and Your Rights
Knowing what to do if you become a victim of a hit and run car accident helps you protect your rights. Furthermore, reporting offending drivers also helps protect other prudent drivers and pedestrians. Especially in states like California, where 337 hit and run cases occurred in 2016.
Got involved in a more serious accident? Then be sure to check out our ultimate guide on how to recover from such incidents!