By many estimates, more than one in ten accidents includes at least one driver who leaves the scene. With more than 6.2 million crashes of some kind reported in the United States every year, well over half a million people will find themselves on the “hit” side of the hit-and-run equation.
While more than two-thirds of all reported crashes result in property damage only, more than 1.5 million people are injured in car crashes every year, and close to 40,000 will die. Most drivers are responsible enough to remain at the scene after a crash, but if one leaves what can you do about it?
After a hit-and-run, it’s important to keep your cool. The most critical thing you can do is collect all the information possible about the driver that fled and the vehicle. Get everything you can: the type of vehicle (manufacturer and model), the color, the license plate number, and any identifying marks (did it have a custom paint job, a dented left fender, or a broken taillight?). Make a note of where the vehicle came from and where it was last seen heading.
A hit-and-run driver in Spokane recently left their license plate behind at the scene of the crash, making it easier for the victim to track down the vehicle. But that’s not something you can depend on.
Be sure to record all the information you can about the crash: exact time and date, precise street location, and so on. With cameras on virtually every phone, it’s easy to take pictures to document everything, such as the location of your vehicle and others (including parked cars). If you’re quick, you might even get photos of the vehicle that caused the accident before it flees. Take photos of the damage to your vehicle, as well.
Collect the names and contact information of anyone who witnessed the crash. They might have nothing to do with the accident itself, but their accounts could prove useful in an insurance or legal claim.
Call 911 immediately to report the crash. Not all departments will respond to minor property damage accidents, but if there is an injury or fatality, the police will try to come quickly and they’ll want you to stay at the scene to help the investigation (unless medical transport is needed). If the police can’t respond, you should file an accident report at the nearest station house as soon as possible—that report can be vital in any future claim.
In Washington, the penalty for leaving the scene of an accident can be high. Drivers are obligated by state law to remain at the scene after any crash; if they don’t, they can face criminal charges that bring up to $20,000 in fines and up to ten years of prison time. They can also expect to have their license revoked.
If they strike an unattended vehicle or cause only property damage, a driver is expected to leave all their contact information conspicuously at the scene after taking “reasonable steps to locate and notify” whoever owns the property. Failure to do this is a misdemeanor.
That depends on what kind of insurance you have. In Washington, drivers are only required to carry liability insurance (for injury, death, and property damage). They can add uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage (UM/UIM), which would cover damage from a hit-and-run driver (and is usually an affordable add-on).
When you’re the victim of a car crash, you want to get compensation to cover the damage and medical expenses. When the driver is known, an experienced automobile accident attorney can help your claim against the other driver. But even when the other driver is never found, you can sometimes use help settling with your own insurer.