Washington Hit-and-Run Laws & Penalties

Washington Hit-and-Run Laws & Penalties

What happens when a driver flees the scene of a car accident?

In Washington State, a hit-and-run is a criminal offense. Find out what steps you need to take to avoid a hit-and-run charge, and what to do if you’re the victim of a hit-and-run accident.
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A hit-and-run is a car accident in which one of the drivers involved in the crash flees the scene without stopping to provide their information or assist the other people involved in the accident.

Hit-and-run accidents can be particularly devastating because the victims may be left with little or no recourse for recovering damages.

In this article, we’ll take a look at the steps you need to take to avoid a hit-and-run charge in Washington, and the options that may be available if you’re the victim of a hit-and-run crash.

Are hit-and-run accidents common?

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, a hit-and-run crash happens somewhere in the United States every 43 seconds.

While fatal hit and runs are uncommon, Washington has not been immune from such devastating crashes.

Washington hit-and-run crashes involving at least 1 fatality
2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016
21 14 23 19 23 12 18 22 21 19 13
Source: Washington State Department of Transportation Annual Collision Data Summary Reports


Real Life Example:Police officers responded to an unresponsive man, later identified as Eric Johnson, lying in the middle of the road in Davenport, Washington.

Officers spotted drag marks on the road near the man and a small blue paint chip. Police determined that Eric was struck by a vehicle driving north on Washington Street and he was carried on the hood of the vehicle for about 140 feet before falling to the ground. Once on the ground, police determined that Eric became entangled in the undercarriage of the vehicle and was dragged an additional 3,000 feet.

The next day, police officers canvassing the neighborhood spotted a dark blue vehicle with a large dent on the hood and broken plastic molding on the front. Officers spoke with the owner of the vehicle, Mark Blackwood, who quickly said: “You found the right guy.”

Mark was charged with a Class B felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

What steps do I need to take to avoid a hit-and-run charge in Washington?

To avoid a hit-and-run charge in Washington, you must take 3 steps if you’re involved in an accident that causes an injury, death, or property damage:

  1. Stop your vehicle at the scene of the accident (or as close to the scene as possible),
  2. Provide your name, address, insurance company, insurance policy number, and vehicle license number to any person involved in the crash, and
  3. Render reasonable assistance to anyone injured.

But what happens if you hit an unoccupied vehicle?

If you collide with an unoccupied vehicle, you must:

  1. Stop your vehicle at the scene of the accident, and
  2. Locate the owner of the property or leave a written note providing your name and contact information.

What are the penalties for a hit and run?

The penalties for a hit-and-run accident depend on the damages that you cause.

Washington hit-and-run penalties
Type of accident Category Penalty
Unoccupied vehicle Misdemeanor Up to 90 days jail and up to $1,000 fine
Property damage only Gross misdemeanor Up to 364 days in jail and up to $5,000 fine
Injury Class C felony Up to 5 years in jail and up to $10,000 fine
Death Class B felony Up to 10 years in jail and up to $20,000 fine
Source: RCW 46.52.010 and RCW 46.52.020

What should I do if I fled the scene of an accident?

Fleeing the scene of an accident is always the WRONG decision. Nevertheless, mistakes happen. There are a number of reasons why you might flee the scene of an accident. For example:

  • You might be panic
  • You might be afraid to confront the victim
  • You might be intoxicated
  • You might be uninsured
  • You might not realize that you hit something until you get home

If you flee the scene of an accident, you should immediately call the nearest police station and provide notice of the accident, along with your contact information. Doing so might not save you from a hit-and-run conviction, but it’s the right thing to do and it may result in you receiving a lesser sentence than if law enforcement tracks you down.

How do I recover damages after a hit-and-run accident?

If you or the police are able to identify the hit-and-run driver, you can make a claim against their insurance or file a personal injury lawsuit against them.

If you are unable to identify the hit-and-run driver, the following optional insurance policies may still provide coverage:

  • Uninsured motorist (UM) coverage. UM coverage provides coverage for damages sustained as a result of an accident involving a driver who can’t be located. UM coverage is not required in Washington.
  • Personal injury protection (PIP) coverage. PIP coverage provides up to $10,000 in coverage regardless of who’s at fault. Whether or not PIP covers hit-and-run accidents depends on your specific policy.
  • MedPay coverage. MedPay coverage provides coverage for medical expenses regardless of who’s at fault. Again, whether or not MedPay covers hit-and-run accidents depends on your specific policy.

What should I do if I’m the victim of a hit-and-run accident?

If you’re involved in a hit-and-run accident, your first reaction may be to chase after the fleeing driver. This is always a bad idea. Chasing a fleeing driver puts you and everyone else on the road in danger. Instead, follow these steps:

  1. Move your vehicle to a safe spot off the road if possible.
  2. Call the police and provide them with any information you have about the hit-and-run vehicle (make, model, color, license plate, distinguishing features, physical description of the driver).
  3. Contact your insurance company to see if your policy covers hit-and-run accidents.

Finally, if you’ve been involved in a hit-and-run accident, consider contacting a Washington personal injury attorney. An experienced attorney can help you understand your recovery options if the other driver can’t be located, or help you take legal action if the other driver is eventually found.


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