If you’ve been involved in a single car accident, you usually take some form of the following actions: exchange driver information, call your insurance company, take pictures etc
However, the one thing you should NEVER do is leave the scene of an accident. Why?
Because if you do flee the scene you could suffer some serious legal consequences and financial penalties.
In this article I will discuss:
What happens if you flee the scene of an accident.
Examples of State Penalties for a “Hit and Run”.
What you SHOULD do at the scene of an incident.
Leaving the Scene of an Accident
Generally speaking, most states have laws that make fleeing the scene of an accident a misdemeanor hit-and-run. This is predicated on the idea that the accident only resulted in property damage — in other words, nobody suffered any personal injuries.
In this scenario, a misdemeanor usually comes with fines, community service and a bit of jail time. Conversely, if the accident is more serious and involves a fatality, leaving the accident scene alone can be grounds for a felony or much more. The simplest way to think about it is that in essentially all cases it is against the law, and the punishment is based on the seriousness of the underlying incident.
Penalties for Leaving the Scene of an Accident
Like so many other things, individual states have different statutes regarding this issue. So the exact penalties depend on where you live and what your state’s vehicle code says specifically.
Let’s look at a few state specific examples about the consequences of a hit and run:
New York – Under New York regulations “fleeing the scene of an incident without reporting” – can land you in considerable hot water. Common penalties (if you are found guilty of this offense) are:
- A $250 fine
- 3 points added to your driving record
- Potential increased insurance rates, and
- Up to 15 days in jail – and this is if no injuries are involved.
California – The vehicle code in California enforces even stiffer penalties for a “hit and run”, with the misdemeanor (property damage only) penalties for a conviction weighing in at: up to one thousand dollars ($1,000) …. or the potential for a jail sentence of up to six months (uncommon).
Texas – Not a state known for is judicial leniency, Texas has some relatively unforgiving penalties for misdemeanor “hit and run” as well. A guilt conviction will likely land you a $500 fine, up to 6 months in Jail, probation and a suspended license. This all depends on the class of misdemeanor and of course whether or not anyone was injured.
It’s also important to note that even if you are not at fault you still can face consequences for leaving the scene of an accident.
This quite logically leads us to the next question, which is:
What Should I do At the Scene of Accident?
The same disclaimer on the variation of state law listed above applies here as well. But what we can say is this:
In the wake of the accident, if all parties agree that no police response is necessary (minor damage, no injury, no need for a police report), then there is legally no need to report the incident.
On the flip side, conditions that require a police presence after an accident are:
- Clear evidence of $500 (or more) worth of physical damage to either vehicle.
- Any party involved in the accident sustaining a bodily injury as a result.
- Any vehicle involved has become undrivable as a result of the accident.
If you are in any doubt whatsoever, call the police. Erring on the side of caution is rarely bad, especially in this context.
Beyond a determination of whether or not the police need to be involved, some further best practices are:
- Stop the car immediately, and as quickly as possible navigate it to a safe position (not obstructing traffic).
- Take 5 or 10 deep breaths, this will allow you to think more clearly and ward off the
effects of shock mentioned above.
- Ensure that all parties involved in the accident are not injured and/or in need of assistance.
- Exchange information, this typically includes: driver’s name, address, phone number, driver’s license number, insurance company name, insurance policy number, and vehicle registration number.
- It’s best not to discuss fault or get into an argument with the other driver, but of course be polite.
- Take as many photos as possible. Document both vehicles condition and get some photos of the area to show the context of the accident.
- If the accident is more serious in nature, call 911 and see that a police report is properly filed — getting the responding officers contact information never hurts
There are two essential takeaways from this article: One, NEVER leave the scene of an accident unless staying presents a clear threat to your well being. Two, accidents happen, and staying calm afterwards is always your best course of action.
Hopefully you’re now armed with a bit more information, drive safe.
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