In August, a driver plowed into a crowd of pedestrians at Venice Beach, California killing an Italian woman on her honeymoon. The driver initially failed to stop as required by law. Leaving the scene of an accident where a personal injury or property damage occurs constitutes a serious crime – hit and run. In the California case, the alleged hit-and-run driver turned himself over to police several hours after the accident. He has pleaded not guilty to charges of murder and assault.
The Law On Hit-and-Runs
Although each state’s law may differ slightly, all states require that a driver must stop as soon is it is safe after an accident. For example in Massachusetts, if you’re involved in an accident, you are required by law to stop immediately and exchange identifying information such as names, contact information, and driver’s license numbers with the other driver. If that person is injured you are to wait for emergency assistance on the scene and give your account to the police. Failing to do this could end in criminal charges.
Under Mass. Gen. Laws. ch. 90 sec. 24(2)(a), someone who is involved in an auto accident and then leaves the scene may be subject to significant penalties including substantial fines and imprisonment of up to 10 years. Further, the driver may also be held responsible in a civil lawsuit.
Hit-and-Run Accidents Are On The Rise
A quick search of the news show that “hit and run” accidents are becoming increasingly frequent, with drivers who have caused serious personal injuries leaving victims behind.
In fact, recent news provides several accounts of hit and runs including:
•A hit-and-run fatality in the Bronx with the driver not yet found.
•A Pueblo, Texas hit-and-run that led to serious personal injuries. The driver later turned himself in, leading to charges of vehicular assault, leaving the scene of an accident involving serious bodily injury and DUI.
•A fatal Indiana hit-and-run that killed a teen driving a moped.
Why do drivers leave the scene of an accident?
Many factors may influence a driver not to stop after an accident. In some circumstances a driver may simply panic. In these situations, a driver may flee but later return to the scene and/or turn himself in. Turning yourself in may decrease the severity of penalties you face by showing a willingness to take responsibility for you actions.
Other times, a driver in a hit-and-run accident may flee because he or she is driving under the influence. In these situations a driver may fear arrest and fail to stop, making the situation and potential penalties even worse.
A recent 20/20 investigation focusing on the Venice Beach accident in particular cited another reason: LA’s high hit-and-run rate is the result of the city’s large number of undocumented immigrant residents, some of whom use a car despite not being able to obtain a driver’s license. Many undocumented immigrants fear deportation in the event of a collision that injures another.
It is understandably frightening if you have been in an accident that leads to the serious injury or even death of another. However, it’s always better to stop than to flee the scene of an accident.