What are Hit and Run Laws?

Lainie Petersen

Hit and run laws provide criminal penalties to drivers who cause a car accident and do not stop to render aid to crash victims, report the accident, or identify themselves to the other drivers or other victims. The penalty for violating hit and run laws varies by jurisdiction, but can often be quite severe and can intensify the penalties provided by vehicular laws so that even a relatively simple accident can result in significant punishment for a driver. Penalties can be particularly severe in cases where a driver leaves the scene after a fatal accident.

Hit and run laws often lead to penalties for drivers who cause crashes and don't stop to help.
Hit and run laws often lead to penalties for drivers who cause crashes and don't stop to help.

In many places, hit and run laws require a driver to stop his vehicle as soon as he may safely do so following a collision or accident. Depending on the circumstances, these laws may require him to communicate with another driver to exchange contact and insurance information, contact law enforcement, or provide what first aid he can to accident victims. Fleeing an accident scene is perceived in many places as being highly irresponsible as well as heartless in that the driver could at least provide some sort of assistance to the injured and contact law enforcement authorities and emergency medical assistance on the victim's behalf. From a law enforcement perspective, a driver who is involved in an accident should be prepared to provide information about the circumstances of the accident so that an appropriate investigation can take place. In situations where a driver is involved in an accident with a stationary, unmanned vehicle or causes damage to property, hit and run laws may require that the driver make a good-faith effort to find the owner of the car property and provide information so that she can be contacted.

It is illegal to be involved in an accident and then leave the scene.
It is illegal to be involved in an accident and then leave the scene.

Criminal law in various places has long recognized the importance of hit and run laws. When cars first came into use, they did not necessarily have license plates that could make it easy for pedestrians, other drivers, and law enforcement to identify a vehicle. If an accident occurred, a driver could easily speed away before anyone could make note of her appearance, which could result in her identity never being discovered. As a result, hit and run laws came into effect to discourage such behavior. Some jurisdictions take these kinds of accidents so seriously that a particularly egregious violation may be classified as a felony, resulting in serious jail time for violators.

Criminal charges may be filed against a driver who does not stop to assist a victim after causing a car accident.
Criminal charges may be filed against a driver who does not stop to assist a victim after causing a car accident.
Law enforcement personnel should be notified immediately following a vehicle collision.
Law enforcement personnel should be notified immediately following a vehicle collision.

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