Vehicle collisions can be stressful, and drivers don't always know what they're supposed to do after being involved in an accident. However, all states have laws that require drivers to take certain actions following an accident. Drivers who fail to abide by these rules—which generally require the driver to stop, provide certain information to the other drivers who are involved, and possibly render aid to those that might need it—can be charged with criminal violations. These types of criminal charges are often referred to as "hit-and-run" offenses. Hit-and-run violations can also lead to civil liability and administrative license-related consequences.
This article explains what state laws generally require of drivers who are involved in accidents and some of the penalties a driver might face for failing to stop at the scene of an accident.
Regardless of the circumstances or fault, the driver of a vehicle who comes into contact with another vehicle, a pedestrian, or the property of another has a duty to stop at the scene. The specific circumstances of the collision or accident determine what further actions the driver must take.
If the collision did not result in any damage or injuries, the driver is generally not required to report the matter to police or take any further action. However, the driver should inspect the property that could have been damaged and check in with persons involved (drivers, passengers, and pedestrians) to ensure there's no damage and no one was injured.
If the other driver requests your address, name, and registration information, you might be required under the laws of your state to provide it, even if there were no apparent damages or injuries.
If you hit a parked car or some other property, you're generally required to stop and inspect the damage. Once you confirm that there is damage, you typically must make reasonable efforts to locate the owner. If you can't locate the owner, you're required to leave your name, address, and registration information in a conspicuous place where the owner can find it.
Generally, these circumstances also require the driver to report the matter to the police as soon as possible. In some states, drivers need to report property damage to the police only if it exceeds a certain amount (such as $1,000).
A collision with an occupied car, regardless of who caused it, requires the drivers to stop and ensure the safety of all other drivers and passengers. If someone was injured or killed, the driver has a duty to provide aid. In most situations, providing aid means contacting emergency services. (Many states have "good Samaritan" laws that protect persons who provide aid in emergency situations from civil liability.)
Once the immediate safety concerns are taken care of, the drivers are required to exchange information (such as names, addresses, insurance, and vehicle registration) and report the incident to law enforcement.
When damaged vehicles are blocking a roadway, the drivers generally must take efforts to move the vehicles so as not to impede traffic. However, this duty doesn't apply when injury or death has occurred or if the damage has left the vehicles immovable or inoperable.
The duties discussed above generally come into play when a motorist gets into an accident while operating a vehicle. However, these duties also apply when a motorist's vehicle rolls away and causes damage or injuries.
Failing to comply with post-accident rules can result in a variety of consequences for a driver. The consequences can include criminal penalties and administrative and civil consequences.
Drivers who are convicted of hit-and-run or failing to render aid can face a variety of criminal penalties. The specific penalties depend on the circumstances of the case and the laws of the state.
Misdemeanor hit-and-run charges. When a hit-and-run offense involves minor property damages (less than $1,000 or so in damages), it'll normally be classified as a misdemeanor. Misdemeanor penalties generally include fines of up to $2,500 or so and a maximum of one year in jail.
Felony hit-and-run charges. Certain aggravating factors (which vary by state) can elevate a hit-and-run offense to a felony. Generally, hit-and-run can be charged as a felony if the offense involves serious injuries or deaths. Felony hit-and-run penalties can include several years or more in prison and huge fines (in some cases, hundreds of thousands of dollars).
With most collisions, the insurance companies of the drivers are able to resolve who will pay what damages. But if things don't get resolved this way, the injured party can sue the at-fault party in civil court for vehicle damages and personal injuries. In some states, a driver who fails to render aid can be ordered by the judge to pay additional punitive damages to the injured party. Punitive damages can substantially increase the amount an at-fault driver has to pay for an accident.
In many states, the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) will administratively suspend or revoke the licenses of hit-and-run drivers. In some circumstances, an administrative suspension can occur even without a hit-and-run conviction in criminal court.