It happened in the blink of an eye: Suddenly, you felt the impact as another vehicle slammed into yours. As you struggled to process what happened and if you were injured, you realized the other driver was fleeing, and you watched in disbelief as they sped off.
Now what should you do? It may seem unlikely, but hit-and-runs occur more often than you think. Below, Sadaka Law will explain how to report a hit-and-run accident and the right steps to take should you ever find yourself in that situation.
How to Report a Hit-and-Run Accident: Step-by-Step Breakdown
A responsible driver doesn’t flee after a car accident. It’s not just common sense; it’s basic human decency.
Sadly, though, the occurrence of hit-and-run car crashes has been increasing steadily over the years. According to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), there were 2,564 fatalities from hit-and-run accidents in 2020, a 26% increase from 2019 (2,037).
Being involved in a hit-and-run can be a traumatic experience, even if there weren’t any serious injuries. This type of crash occurs when a driver causes damage to another person, vehicle, animal, or property and then leaves the scene.
At Sadaka Law, we’ve worked with many witnesses and victims of hit-and-runs. Those clients and their stories have spurred us to educate and inform the general public on the right way to handle and report a hit-and-run crash, which we’ve outlined below.
Don’t Leave the Scene
If you were the victim in a hit-and-run, don’t leave the scene. If you suspect you’re seriously injured, try to remain in one place until the paramedics arrive.
Contact the Police
Call 911 emergency services or the police immediately afterward to report the accident. Don’t just assume that someone else has already made the call.
The dispatcher will ask for details about your precise location. Try to remain calm, even if you’re upset, anxious, or hurt.
After you’ve called the police, start documenting information and gathering evidence. Be as thorough and detailed as possible.
Jot down the license plate number (if you caught a glimpse), the vehicle’s make, model, and color, the driver’s physical characteristics, weather conditions, names and contact information of any witnesses, and other valuable information.
Take pictures and record videos of property damage and document everything, even if it seems unimportant. If there are witnesses, take down their names and contact information.
File an Accident Report with the Authorities
After the authorities arrive, you’ll have to give them an official statement and file a police report. Be sure to request a copy and write down the name and badge number of every police officer who responded.
Go to the Hospital or Urgent Care Facility for a Medical Evaluation
Even if you feel fine after a motor vehicle accident, you still need to undergo a medical evaluation by a healthcare provider.
Certain kinds of physical trauma may not appear for hours, days, weeks, or even months after the accident, so don’t procrastinate. Save copies of your medical bills for your records and as evidence if you decide to file a lawsuit.
Notify the Insurance Company
Many insurance providers require drivers to contact them within 24 hours of a hit-and-run accident. Collect all the necessary information and documents beforehand to make the process faster and easier.
Follow up with the Police Officers Handling Your Case
In the days and weeks following the crash, you should remain in regular contact with the police. Ask them for updates, and write down any information you receive.
Seek Legal Advice from an Experienced Car Accident Attorney
Many people involved in hit-and-runs plan to seek compensation for their injuries or damaged property. The process is complex, though, and even a positive identification of the other driver doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll win your case.
You should know that the chances of a favorable outcome increase with the help and support of a knowledgeable auto accident lawyer. An attorney can reach out to witnesses, build a case, and fight for your rights.
What Should You Do if You Witness a Hit-and-Run Accident?
If you saw a hit-and-run car accident but weren’t directly involved, what should you do?
Find a Safe Place
Before you do anything, move your vehicle to a safe place. Pull over on the side of the road or into a parking lot and turn your hazard lights on.
Contact 911 and Law Enforcement
Once you’re safely off the road, use your phone to dial 911 or the local/state police.
Give the 911 Dispatcher the Accident Location
The 911 operator on the line is going to ask you for information, such as:
- Your name and location
- What happened in the accident
- If there are any injuries
- How many parties were involved
Though you might feel upset and overwhelmed, try your hardest to remain calm and relay the correct information.
Give a Witness Statement to the Police
After the police arrive, they’ll ask you to provide a witness statement. Just be honest and tell the truth. Ask for a copy of the report and case number so you can file it away. Also, you’ll probably have to speak with the insurance companies or lawyers representing the people in the accident.
Here’s What Not to do When Reporting a Hit-and-Run
Now that you know more about how to report a hit-and-run crash, it’s time to learn what you shouldn’t do in this situation:
- Don’t attempt to follow the driver as they flee the scene. It’s dangerous and could end up causing another accident or worse.
- Don’t wait to call the police or your insurer to file a police report or accident claim.
- Don’t put off requesting medical attention or seeing a doctor after the crash.
- Don’t be rude when speaking with the police, insurers, or other witnesses.
- Don’t falsify or exaggerate any details; be honest and truthful.
Why Is it So Important to Report a Hit-and-Run to the Police?
Here’s a hypothetical situation: You were in a hit-and-run, but the damage was very minor. Your bumper has a few scratches, and one of your taillight lenses has a crack. Honestly, is it even worth it to report the accident to the authorities?
The answer is a resounding yes, and here’s why.
An official police report provides irrefutable evidence that an accident occurred, including the time and date. Having the report to fall back on makes it more difficult for the other driver to claim they weren’t in the area when the crash happened.
You’ll need a police report to file an uninsured motorist claim with your insurance company. Many hit-and-run drivers flee because they don’t have insurance, and your provider won’t take your claim without a report.
A police report is necessary to file a civil suit against the other driver. However, you have to call the police within 24 hours of the accident.
Tips for Preventing Future Hit and Runs
Unfortunately, hit-and-run crashes are all too common in the U.S. The following tips will help you protect yourself against drivers who flee the scene of accidents:
- Drive safely and defensively; don’t speed or act recklessly behind the wheel
- Equip your vehicle with a dash cam in the front and rear
- Keep current with your state’s laws regarding car accidents, including hit and runs
- Invest in a vehicle with advanced safety features (like automatic braking)
How Long Do You Have to Report a Hit-and-Run Car Crash?
Every state has different laws about car accidents. For example, in New Jersey, accidents that cause over $500 in damage to one person need to have a written report filed within 10 days of the crash.
New York has the same 10-day requirement, but the property damage amount increases to $1,000. Generally speaking, a good course of action is to report a hit-and-run car accident as quickly as possible.
What Legal Consequences Can You Face for Leaving the Accident Scene?
Leaving the scene of a car accident is rarely the right decision. The legal penalties for such an action can have severe, long-lasting effects on your life.
Specific criminal and legal consequences for hit-and-run charges vary depending on where you live. Many hit-and-runs become felonies when they cause injury to another person. Fines can range between $5,000 and $20,000. Depending on the circumstances of your case, you could end up with a 15-year jail sentence. Plus, it’s very likely you’ll receive an automatic suspension or revocation of your driver’s license, which can last between six months and three years.
Call Sadaka Law Now to Schedule a Consultation with Our Legal Team
At Sadaka Law, we genuinely respect our clients and fight tirelessly to achieve their interests. We hope this article has taught you more about how to report a hit-and-run accident, including what not to do.
If you were in a hit-and-run crash, dealing with such a traumatic experience can seem impossible if you don’t have proper support. You focus on healing and recovery; let our team of professional and experienced attorneys handle all the legal red tape.