Jul 16, 2017 Beware ever committing hit and run/ leaving the scene of a car collision
The temptations to hit and run/ leave the scene of a car collision can be many, including hitting a parked car when no witnesses seem to be present, not wanting to be discovered having committed possible DWI, driving without a valid and license, being in a hurry to arrive at one’s destination, not having car insurance, and reasoning that the other person caused the accident and that the damage was only to the wrongdoer’s car. On top of that, some people do not even know they were in an accident at all, so depart the scene.
Others might get charged with the crime of hit and run by not stopping right away, but instead taking too long to find somewhere to pull over that will not impede traffic, only to find that the other driver thinks you have tried to flee, and calls the police. When faced with the choice between impeding traffic and being charged with hit and run, the choice is obvious.
Virginia hit and run law provides in pertinent part:
FOR INJURY AND DAMAGE TO ATTENDED PROPERTY:
“The driver of any vehicle involved in an accident in which a person is killed or injured or in which an attended vehicle or other attended property is damaged shall immediately stop as close to the scene of the accident as possible without obstructing traffic, as provided in § 46.2-888, and report his name, address, driver’s license number, and vehicle registration number forthwith to the State Police or local law-enforcement agency, to the person struck and injured if such person appears to be capable of understanding and retaining the information, or to the driver or some other occupant of the vehicle collided with or to the custodian of other damaged property.”
Va. Code § 46.2-894.
FOR DAMAGE TO UNATTENDED PROPERTY:
“The driver of any vehicle involved in an accident in which no person is killed or injured, but in which an unattended vehicle or other unattended property is damaged, shall make a reasonable effort to find the owner or custodian of such property and shall report to the owner or custodian the information which the driver is required to report pursuant to § 46.2-894 if such owner or custodian is found. If the owner or custodian of such damaged vehicle or property cannot be found, the driver shall leave a note or other sufficient information including driver identification and contact information in a conspicuous place at the scene of the accident and shall report the accident in writing within 24 hours to the State Police or the local law-enforcement agency.”
Va. Code § 46.2-896.
A hit and run conviction is a scarlet letter, and risks jail time, a suspended license without eligibility for a restricted driving license, and court fines and costs. Drivers should overcover risk against a hit and run charge by doing such things as:
– Never drive with any alcohol in your bloodstream, so as not to risk a DWI conviction nor be concerned that police will charge DWI upon arriving at an accident scene.
– Never drive without a valid license. If you have any past-due court fines and costs, that is among the alerts to check whether your license is suspended. Unfortunately, Virginia law does not provide for driver’s licenses for non-United States citizens without valid visas to be in the United States, putting them in a bind between suffering from not driving, and breaking the law and suffering the consequences of driving without a license .
– Always have a pen and paper in your car to leave a note on the dashboard of any parked car that you accidentally hit.
– If you are not sure you hit another car or others’ property, it is better to state that to the owner of the property. On the rare occasions when my car parking might have left a scratch on another car rather than merely a “love tap”, I have left a note on the other car’s dashboard.
– If you are not sure whether anyone has been injured in the accident, it can be safer to assume an injury, including because some alleged car accident victims only claim an injury subsequent to the accident date.
– Report to the police right away about any accident with unattended property, to avoid being prematurely charged by the police with such a ht and run. I have spoken to too many hit and run defendants who told me that they were charge with hit and run on a parked car when they had merely walked away temporarily to call their insurance company and/or to seek pen and paper to leave a note.
– If you are not sure whether you are obliged to report an accident, consider reporting it nonetheless, whether or not you obtain a lawyer’s assistance tp dp so. When I had an unfortunate and upsetting mishap where a deer smashed right into my car, I overcovered risk by calling the police the next day, even though the law did not seem to require doing so. The police officer I spoke with over the phone confirmed I had no obligation to report the incident.
– Whether counterintuitive or not, if the driver fails to meet his or her stopping and reporting obligations under the hit and run law, all passengers sixteen years old and older must report the incident to the police. Va. Code §§ 46.2-895 and 46.2-897.
– On a separate and related note, failing to timely report an accident to the insurer of a car or the driver might risk losing insurance coverage for the accident. At the same time, beware submitting to a recorded statement with your car insurer without the advice and assistance of a qualified lawyer, including whether and how to decline to answer any questions about whether alcohol was involved in the accident.
The duty to report an accident to the police may seem to be counterintuitive to one’s Fifth Amendment right to remain silent. The courts are not going to buy such an argument.
Beware that leaving the scene of an accident with attended property that involves more than $1000 in damage is a Virginia Class 6 felony, carrying up to five years in prison. It takes not much damage to exceed that $1000 threshold. as underlined by the Virginia Court of Appeals this past week, confirming that labor costs to repair damage from a hit and run are part of that $1000 calculation. Cocke v. Virginia, ___ Va. App. ___ (July 11, 2017).
Remember to drive defensively, and to be on the proactive defense against any hit & run prosecution exposure, if in any car accident.