When it comes to hit and run accidents, California’s lawmakers don’t have a sense of humor. They created laws that deal with hit and run accidents that simply involve property damage, and for hit and run accidents that resulted in someone getting hurt. If you’re charged with a hit and run, you must understand the difference between the two types of incidents.
A hit-and-run accident that simply results in property damage isn’t the end of the world. It doesn’t matter if you hit someone’s mailbox and knocked it over or if you rear-ended their car and fled the scene of the accident. As long as only property was damaged, you’ll only face misdemeanor charges.
That changes if someone was hurt during the accident. If someone was hurt, you’ll be facing felony charges.
What Is A Hit And Run Accident?
When you were first learning how to drive a car, you should have learned that California law states that if you were involved in an accident, you’re legally required to move your vehicle into a spot where it’s not going to cause additional accidents and report the accident to the police. You’re supposed to stay at the scene until the police tell you that you’re free to go. The only exception is if you don’t have a working phone and need to go to a nearby house/business and use their phone to report the accident. Once you’ve reported the accident, you need to return to the accident scene.
You’re legally involved in a hit and run accident if:
- You leave the scene of an accident.
- Fail to report the accident.
- Neglect to provide all involved parties with your identity and insurance information.
One Important Fact About Hit And Run Accidents In California
When most people hear that the police are looking for a person/vehicle involved in a hit-and-run accident, they assume that they are looking for the driver who caused the accident. That’s not always the case. In California, you are required to stay at the scene even if you were the victim of another person’s driving. If you leave, the police will start looking for you.
There have even been cases of a driver getting involved in a hit and run even though they weren’t actually involved in the accident. They became involved because it was their driving that triggered the accident. If you even suspect you were involved in the accident, you need to remain on the scene.
What If The Property Owner Isn’t There?
There are some situations where you might not be able to talk to the property owner. Examples of this would be bumping into a parked car or hitting a mailbox. Don’t assume that because the property owner isn’t there that you’re off the hook. The best response is to call the police and get them involved in the situation. Another option is to leave a note that provides the property owner with your contact information.
What Happens If You’re Convicted Of A Hit And Run Accident?
If you’re convicted of a hit-and-run accident a few different things will happen. The first is that you’ll be responsible for the traffic ticket and other consequences related to the accident. If the accident only involved property damage, you only face misdemeanor charges which includes a maximum sentence of six months in jail, probation, two points getting added to your driving record, and a $1,000 fine. You’ll also have to make restitution.
If someone is hurt during the accident, you’ll be convicted of a felony. The maximum sentence includes a fine that can be as high as $10,000, three years in a state prison, and restitution.
There have been multiple cases where the hit and run driver was convicted of both misdemeanor and felony hit and run charges.
No matter how bad things might seem following an accident, the situation will only get worse if you drive away. If you think that no one will notice, remember that between traffic cameras, cell phones, and dashboard cameras, it’s likely that there will be a great deal of footage of your vehicle, including your license plate so it won’t be difficult for the police to track you down.