What to do when a driver leaves the scene of a car accident
A hit and run accident is, by definition, surprising. One moment you’re driving along a quiet road, enjoying the sunshine, and the next moment adrenaline is flooding your veins as you veer off into a ditch because a car sideswiped yours.
What just happened?
A hit and run is when a driver hits another car, a person, an animal or property and fails to provide his or her insurance information or render aid before leaving the scene. In Texas, this is a serious criminal charge that can range from a misdemeanor to a felony. Punishment can be everything from a fine all the way up to incarceration.
What responsibilities does a driver have?
Under the Texas Transportation Code, a driver must stop and take certain actions after a crash that results in property damage or injury to another driver. In order to avoid the criminal charge of leaving the scene of an accident, a driver must do the following:
- With an accident involving injury or death, the driver must return to the scene and render aid, provide his or her personal information, and show his or her driver’s license if requested.If the driver decides to flee without rendering aid, the result could be a third-degree felony conviction, punishable by 2 to 10 years in prison. If the victim’s injuries were not serious, the result could be a felony conviction of up to 1 year in county jail or up to 5 years in state prison, along with a potential fine of up to $5,000.
- In an accident that involves damage to an occupied vehicle, the driver must stop as close as possible to the car without blocking traffic, render aid, provide personal information, and show his or her driver’s license if requested.Fleeing without rendering aid to an occupied vehicle is a Class C misdemeanor with a potential fine of up to $500. If the total damage to all vehicles is less than $200, the punishment could potentially be a Class B misdemeanor with up to 6 months in a county jail. This same punishment applies to hitting an unoccupied vehicle or damaging fixtures/landscaping and failing to report.
- In an accident involving damage to an unoccupied vehicle, the driver must stop, locate the driver if able, provide his or her contact information, or leave a note in a conspicuous area with personal information and details regarding the accident.
- In an accident that involves damage to fixtures or highway landscaping, the driver would need to take “reasonable steps” to find a person of authority and report the damage along with contact information. If the estimated damage is worth more than $1,000, the driver would need to file a report with law enforcement.
Failure to comply with any of these requirements could potentially result in arrest. Many people are worried that whatever they say when filing a report will be used against them; however, Texas law specifically states that whatever statements drivers give when filing a report cannot be used against them in a civil suit.
How to avoid liability and criminal charges for hit and run accidents
We all make mistakes. If you accidentally hit a parked car, caused an accident or hit a bicyclist, motorist or a pedestrian, there are steps you should take to minimize your liability and avoid criminal charges.
If you hit an unattended vehicle, you should do at least some of the following:
1. Wait for the vehicle owner to return.
2. Enter surrounding businesses to see who owned the car or other vehicle.
3. Take photos of the damage you caused.
4. Talk to witnesses and get their contact information.
5. Leave a note on the windshield with your contact and insurance information if you can’t locate the vehicle’s owner.
6. Call your insurance company and tell them what happenned.
If you hit a car or pedestrian, Texas law §550.021 explains that drivers must not leave the scene of any accident they cause. In order to avoid an arrest for a hit and run crime as well as minimize your civil liability, you must:
- Give your name, address, and vehicle registration number.
- Provide your insurance information.
- Show your operator’s license if you’re a commercial driver.
- Provide assistance such as calling the police and/or paramedics.
- Remain at the scene.
- Move your vehicle away, if possible, to avoid obstructing traffic.
Depending on what caused the accident, you may still be responsible for damages should a lawsuit occur. Nevertheless, by acting responsibility, you may able to avoid punitive damages and other criminal penalties.
But why wouldn’t a driver stop, anyway?
There are many reasons why a driver wouldn’t stay to survey the damage.
- He’s driving with a suspended license or has too many tickets.
- He doesn’t have a valid driver’s license.
- He is intoxicated or on drugs.
- He doesn’t have car insurance.
- There is an outstanding warrant for his arrest.
- He might not have permission to drive the car (which is a nice way of saying it could be stolen).
- He could be driving a company car and doesn’t want to get in trouble with his boss.
Don’t try to chase after the driver, even if you think you can catch him. That will result in you getting pulled over for speeding.
So what am I supposed to do?
First of all, stay calm. Check on everyone in the car. State laws require that all drivers, not just the perpetrators, stay at the scene and call the police; this way, you can preserve the official record for your insurance company. Provide basic first aid and wait for emergency medical services to arrive. Try to get your vehicle toward the side of the road if possible.
Normally, this is when you’d exchange insurance information with the other driver. Instead you’ll just be waiting for the cops and medical services to arrive. In the meantime, collect information and evidence.
A post-accident report form like this one can be kept in your glove compartment for times like these. It has all of the relevant information your insurance company will need for a claim. In this instance, filling it out will be rather one-sided. Take pictures on your phone of the accident scene, your car’s damage, the weather conditions and whatever else looks possibly relevant. Remember, it’s better to have too much rather than too little evidence.
See if there are any witnesses around and ask them what they saw. Most importantly, get their contact information! If a witness leaves town, it will be almost impossible to track him down again.
For hit and run drivers, you have to be creative in trying to find them. Think of every piece of identifying information you can:
- Do you remember any of the license plate number?
- What color was the car?
- Did it have rust?
- Was it broken down or brand new?
- Were there any identifying bumper stickers?
- Are there any nearby stores with video cameras?
- If the car was speeding, ask the police if there are any red camera lights to check.
Finally, once all of that has been taken care of, contact your insurance company and file a claim. Even though you weren’t able to get the other driver’s insurance information, it’s possible that your coverage includes a form of underinsurance. Many insurance companies offer underinsurance or uninsurance for this very scenario. Check your coverage and see if that’s included in your benefits.
When a driver leaves the scene without offering his information, an injured driver will have to turn to his own company to cover his medical bills. This happens more often than you think – what if you got hit by someone who was only carrying the minimum required insurance, for example, and your medical bills exceeded that minimum? It’s good to have a backup, and the premiums aren’t that expensive.
Dealing with a hit and run driver is exhausting. Hiring an attorney can be a great way to get a lot of the work off your plate. Consider checking out Enjuris’ Texas law firm listings!