What is a hit and run?

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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Written by Jeffrey Johnson
Insurance Lawyer Jeffrey Johnson

UPDATED: Jul 16, 2021

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Drivers involved in car accidents, regardless of whether they caused the accident or not, are required by law to remain at the scene. Fleeing the scene of an accident is more commonly referred to as “hit and run.” Most often, drivers will commit a hit and run if they do not have insurance or are driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. It is illegal in every state to hit and run without exchanging insurance information or, if it is a more serious accident, waiting for the police to arrive. Even if the driver leaving the scene of the accident was not negligent and did not cause the accident, that driver can still face hit and run charges. All parties to an accident are strictly prohibited from leaving the scene of an accident. However, there are some instances, when a driver collides with a parked car or unattended property and no one is injured, but it is difficult to identify the owner. In those situations, states do not consider it a hit and run if the driver leaves a note at the scene which includes the driver’s contact and insurance information. This note must be clearly visible to the car or property owner when they return to the scene.

Nearly all states classify the charge of hit and run as a felony if someone was injured or killed as a result of the accident. Only Utah, Montana, and Kentucky do not consider hit and run as a felony, and this is true even if someone was hurt or killed in the accident. In most states, hit and runs which only result in property damage are classified as misdemeanors. Punishments for misdemeanor hit and runs are at the discretion of the court and typically only involve suspension of the driver’s license. Although the majority of states consider hit and runs involving death or injury a felony, there are a few key differences in the way states apply hit and run laws. Penalties for felony hit and run convictions vary state by state, but include jail time between three to five years and the revocation of the driver’s license.

Some states, like California, also impose fines between $1,000 to $10,000 in addition to imprisonment. Other states, like Arizona, those convicted of felony hit and run which caused death or injury automatically receive a jail sentence of nearly four years, but those drivers who fled the scene and did not cause the accident receive a shorter jail sentence of close to three years. Certain states, like New Jersey, do not allow first time felony hit and run offenders to receive lighter punishments. Hit and run is serious, if you have been charged with hit and run consult with an attorney immediately to avoid serious fines and even jail or prison.

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