Hit-and-run crash? The other driver fled the scene? You think it won’t happen to you. But, it does happen. In recent years, we’ve seen a rising number of hit and run crashes.
You are driving down University Drive in Huntsville. You stop at the intersection with Memorial Parkway. Suddenly, a speeding car runs the red light and slams into the side of your vehicle. You are shaken and hurt. Before you fully realize what is happening, the other driver speeds away. Police later identified the at-fault driver. Why did he flee the scene? He had no car insurance.
You are driving down Pulaski Pike on the way home after work. You stop at a light. Suddenly, a car crashes into the rear of your car. But, the car does not stop. Instead, the at-fault driver backs up and then speeds from the crash scene. Why did he flee the scene? He had warrants for his arrest and did not want to be caught. Fortunately, an off duty police officer saw the crash and followed the fleeing driver. And, he was caught.
You are driving down Bob Wallace. Suddenly, a car side swipes your vehicle. Your car is damaged but you are okay. The at-fault driver stops briefly, looks at you, and then flees before police arrive. He’s never identified.
You are driving down Whitesburg Drive. A car suddenly comes flying out of a shopping center and hits you. The crash is violent and both vehicles are disabled. You are shaken. While still sitting in your vehicle, you watch as the other driver exits his car and runs on foot from the scene. When he’s later caught, he’ll try to claim someone else was driving his car.
These are all recent car accidents where we’ve counseled and helped clients. Hit-and-run crashes are common. And, they are increasing. People flee the scene for a variety of reasons. Maybe they don’t have car insurance. Maybe they are wanted by police for something else. Maybe they did not have permission to drive the car. In some cases, the at-fault driver is impaired. Impaired people make dumb decisions.
Hit-And-Run Crashes Are A Growing Problem
A few years ago, AAA studied hit-and-run accidents. Why are hit-and-run crashes a serious burden? First, many victims are left unable to obtain the compensation necessary for medical care, rehabilitation, and even car repairs. These crashes cost victims! Second, hit-and-run situations are a criminal violation. That increases the burden on law enforcement and judicial systems. I’ll talk a little more in the next section about a couple things you can do to protect your family financially from the risk of a hit-and-run crash.
What are the statistics on hit-and-run crashes? The AAA data is a couple years old. Of course, we’ve had a pandemic since then. So, let’s look at the data.
According to AAA, the U.S. had 737,100 hit-and-run crashes in 2015. That translates to a hit-and-run crash every 43 seconds. In 2016, there were 2,049 deaths noted from hit-and-run crashes. The AAA article provides some interesting traffic data and trend information. According to AAA:
Similar to trends in fatal crashes and fatalities noted above, there has been an increase in recent years of numbers of hit-and-run crashes that resulted in a police report.
Some hit-and-run crashes involve a driver crashing into another vehicle. Others involve a driver hitting a pedestrian or bicyclist. Recent studies show that 1 in 5 pedestrian deaths involve a hit-and-run crash. Several years ago, I represented another Huntsville attorney who was struck by a hit-and-run driver on Drake Avenue while riding his bike. Law enforcement never identified the fleeing driver. My attorney client suffered a pretty bad neck injury with a ruptured cervical disc. We were able to help him at trial pursue a claim against his own car insurance carrier for uninsured coverage. I’ll talk more about that coverage in a minute.
The AAA research provides some interesting information about hit-and-run drivers. According to the data, about half of all fleeing drivers are eventually identified. However, the rate of identification varies hugely among different states. I could have easily guessed this — The data shows hit-and-run drivers in fatalities tend to be young males with a history of DUI or license suspension. Of course, drivers who flee are much more likely to be intoxicated at the time of the collision.
Do harsher criminal penalties reduce the rate of hit-and-run crashes? This is some interesting data. In many states, the families of hit-and-run victims have successfully lobbied for harsher penalties. A study of these laws in 2012, “found that legal sanctions do not appear to have a deterrent effect when looking at rates of hit-and-run pedestrian fatalities.” I doubt a hit-and-run driver is thinking about penalties when fleeing the scene. While criminal sanctions may not tremendously impact the rate of hit-and-run incidents, some other actions have shown positive results. In urban areas, the presence of traffic cameras has helped. Some larger cities have also implemented a messaging system where bus and taxi drivers are warned when a nearby hit-and-run occurs. Those drivers can then watch for the fleeing suspect. Some states have also decreased the burdens on people trying to get a license. Many hit-and-run crashes involve unlicensed drivers. This has shown some positive results in those states. I would like to see more long-term data on the various steps taken in different states.
How You Can Protect Yourself From A Hit-And-Run Driver
What can you do to protect your family? You can do several things.
If you are involved in an accident, you may be shaken or injured. The moments after a serious crash can be a blur. If you are able, take photographs. If you are able, get the names of witnesses. If you are able, make notes (as soon as possible) of everything you can remember. You may be able to identify the fleeing driver.
The best time to protect your family is before an accident occurs. Check your car insurance. I’ve written several past articles about the huge problem in Alabama with uninsured drivers on our roads. You need plenty of uninsured motorist coverage for your injuries. This coverage provides compensation for your physical injuries that are caused by an uninsured driver, underinsured driver or unknown driver. It’s very important coverage.
A single trip to the emergency room after an accident can cost thousands of dollars. If your injuries require additional treatment, you could be looking at really significant medical bills. You need adequate uninsured / underinsured coverage to protect you and your family from the cost of a serious personal injury. If you have questions about this coverage, let me know. I’m happy to answer your questions.
We are Alabama accident and injury lawyers. We help clients statewide. Outside the courtroom, we continue to advocate for safer roadways, safer workplaces and safer products. If you have a legal question, we are happy to talk.