Being involved in a motor vehicle accident can be disruptive and traumatic, both for you and for everyone involved. But if you decide to leave the scene of the accident before police have arrived, you make the situation even worse. Now, you have added hit-and-run to any other offenses you might have been charged with, punishable by possible fines and jail time.
People may commit hit-and-run offenses for a number of reasons, some less obvious than others. For instance:
• They might not have realized they made contact with another vehicle or person.
• They believe the accident wasn’t their fault and wrongly assume they don’t have to stay.
• They have an outstanding warrant and do not wish to engage the police.
• They fear they might be suspected of DUI.
Whatever the reason, and whatever the circumstances of the crash, leaving the scene of an accident is a serious offense in the State of California. If you choose to do so, you risk compounding your legal troubles, not to mention possibly causing further endangerment to yourself or others. For perspective, let’s look at a few important facts, statistics and other information you should know about hit-and-run accidents.
Hit-and-Run Is On the Rise
Last year, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety reported that the number of hit-and-run related fatalities had reached an all-time high: 2049 deaths in 2016, a 62-percent increase since 2009. AAA says hit-and-run currently happens more than once every minute in the United States.
California Leads the Nation in Hit-and-Run
It’s not something to be proud of. During 2016, California logged at least 337 hit-and-run accidents that caused at least one fatality. Los Angeles is particularly notorious for hit-and-run, with NBC4 reporting that nearly half of accidents in Los Angeles County involve hit-and-run—one every 18 minutes.
Pedestrians and Bicyclists are Most Vulnerable to Hit-and-Run
Not all hit-and-run accidents involve two vehicles (or one vehicle and a tree/pole/building). AAA’s report says pedestrians and cyclists account for 65 percent of hit-and-run fatalities, and hit-and-run accounts for 20 percent of all pedestrian deaths.
Most Hit-and-Runs Occur at Night
AAA reports that hit-and-run is 4.4 times more likely to occur between the hours of midnight and 4:00am compared to 8pm to midnight. They believe part of the reason can be attributed to increased rates of DUI during these hours.
DUI Is a Common Factor in Hit-and-Run
DUI and hit-and-run are quite frequently linked. AAA indicates that drivers who leave the scene of a vehicle accident are between 2 and 9 times more likely to be under the influence than otherwise. In addition, most hit-and-run offenses are committed by male drivers, most of whom have prior DUI convictions.
You Can Be Discovered After the Fact
To illustrate this point: A few years ago, a driver was pulled over in Escondido, California for erratic driving and suspected DUI. While officers had him pulled over, they received word that officers were simultaneously responding to a hit-and-run accident a few miles away that had caused minor injuries to the other driver. The police matched the license plate and vehicle description to the suspect they had pulled over, and he faced those additional charges as a result.
The Probability of Arrest Is Higher Than You Think
Most drivers who leave the scene of an accident are banking on the chance that they won’t be caught. Some news articles have even lamented how few hit-and-run offenders have been captured after leaving the scene. However, the overall national data paints a different picture, according to AAA. While the rate of arrest in specific states varies widely between 10 percent and 100 percent, the national numbers indicate that hit-and-run drivers are at least 50 percent likely to be identified eventually—not good odds for anyone considering it.
Leaving the Scene while DUI Amplifies the Danger
Committing hit-and-run is a serious offense on its own, but if you leave the scene due to DUI, the danger extends far beyond accumulating additional charges, in a number of ways:
• You could cause additional harm. You have basically demonstrated impairment with the first accident. If you get back behind the wheel, especially under stress, your chances of causing further damage or injury increase considerably. Case in point: Consider the Las Vegas driver who now faces murder charges, not from his first crash, but for allegedly killing a bicyclist while fleeing from the first crash.
• Your own impairment works against you. Recently, a driver in George, Washington who allegedly committed hit-and-run was eventually caught due to circumstances caused by his own impairment. While fleeing the scene, he became disoriented, decided to change directions, and attempted to cross a highway median to turn around. In the process, he got his vehicle stuck in a cable barrier he had not noticed. He was soon picked up on foot by police.
What can we take from this collection of information? Bottom line: Even if you could face DUI charges by remaining at the scene of an accident, those charges will still be far more manageable than if you add hit-and-run to your offenses. To add to the risk, choosing to get back behind the wheel could easily result in additional damage, injury and even death, both to yourself and to others. Don’t add to the danger or your own legal complications by leaving the scene. A skilled, compassionate DUI defense attorney can help you work through the difficult situation of a DUI charge. You will have a much more difficult time crafting a defense by adding hit-and-run to it.
If you are facing DUI charges—with or without the hit-and-run element—we are here to help. Call our offices for a free evaluation.