We often hear about them in the news, taking place in catastrophic ways – hit and runs are never fun, although are not always as alarming as they are portrayed to be. We often hear about the injured pedestrian being left lying on the street as the driver speeds by, but hit and runs can take place in many shapes and forms. The instigator isn’t always a negligent or morally corrupt driver, sometimes situations are simply accidental. With various ways this event can take shape, it’s important to understand the legal consequences of hit and runs and what you can do when you are on the receiving end (or offending end) of this phenomenon. Keep reading to learn more!
Before we get stuck into it, learn about how you can minimise the risks of any road obstacle through a defensive driving course. Our recent article shows how you can benefit from this type of course and protect yourself and your car!
What is a Hit and Run?
A hit and run is basically as it sounds; it involves a car, person, or animal that has been hit by another vehicle, who (knowingly or unknowingly) subsequently flees the scene of the accident. This creates a legal implication for the fleeing driver. Typically, in the event of an accident, drivers are obligated to stop and exchange licence and insurance details (and offer assistance for anyone in trouble) – all of which does not occur in a hit and run accident.
Is it a Hit and Run if I Have Hit an Animal?
Considering a hit and run involves hitting another car, does that mean you can’t experience a hit and run with an animal? Well, that’s unfortunately not true. If you hit and injure an animal (apart from a bird), you are legally required to do whatever you reasonably can to ease its pain. Things slightly differ on whether the animal is wild or domesticated. If the injured animal is not wild then the injury must be reported to the police or the domestic animal’s owner, if you are able to get in touch with them.
If you have hit and killed a domestic animal, then you must take it to a vet and call the animal’s owner, the Police, or the RSPCA – this is required by law. You won’t be charged for using the veterinary services, if that is of concern.
In these situations, it’s important to remember to not risk your own safety if you are trying to manage the injured animal. If the animal is too big or distressed, it might be a good idea to call the RSPCA to get advice on how to tend to the animal and help make it comfortable.
Why do Hit and Runs Happen?
No one wants to be involved in one, however, sometimes car accidents are unavoidable. That being said, most of the time, the offending driver has the decency of stopping and dealing with the situation at hand. In the case of drivers that flee the scene, while there is always the possibility that the driver is unaware that they’ve collided with a car or animal, most often – unfortunately – they leave as a result of negligence and in an attempt to avoid the consequences. Offending drivers involved in hit and run accidents are most commonly under the influence of drugs or alcohol, are driving unlicensed and don’t want to be caught, are trying to avoid the legal and monetary consequences, or all of the above.
Those who are under the influence, uninsured, have outstanding warrants, previous tickets, or other legal problems, are the drivers likely to drive away from an accident they’ve created. Sometimes, drivers just panic as they can’t think clearly in highly stressful conditions. If you’re ever unsure of how to handle a car accident, we explain step by step exactly what to do if you’re ever involved in a car accident in one of our recent articles.
Why do Some People Flee After Committing an Accident?
When we’re young, we tend to run away from our mess-ups as we are frightened of the consequences; however, as we get older, we tend to grow out of this – well, most of us do. After making a mistake such as a hit and run, it is a common and normal response to be afraid of admitting to the wrongdoing, and wanting to flee is a natural response to conflict, punishment or negative experiences. However, as adults, we know better – also, we’re aware that there are more severe legal consequences to this. Fleeing the scene of a crime is highly illegal, even if no one, or no CCTV footage, witnesses it.
People are strongly motivated to avoid the consequences. Avoidance actions are usually moderated by a person’s upbringing, culture, and their perception of consequences versus their personal values and morals. People generally own up to their mistakes if they have been positively recognised for good behavior and telling the truth.
Also, overwhelmingly, those who flee the scene of a hit and run have made a rush decision – often within seconds – about whether to stay or leave. They may, at a later point, realise this was a huge mistake and return to the scene of the crime or turn themselves in. However, this is not always the case, especially if they have legal problems hanging over them. If they are driving with no licence or are intoxicated, the choice seems easy – self preservation overtakes everything else, including the basic humanity of not leaving a person to die on the road.
Are Hit and Runs Illegal?
As you may have gathered by this stage – yes, causing an accident and then evading it is extremely illegal; but what exactly are the laws?
The name of the exact Bill or Act varies; however, each state has its own legislation that stipulates that drivers must stop at the scene of an accident or otherwise face penalties that include a fine or imprisonment (for example, laws regarding car accidents in Queensland can be found in the Transport Operations (Road use Management) Act 1995).
Ultimately, if you find yourself in the position of being caught in a hit and run, you are required by law to stop and make sure that everyone involved is safe. You must exchange details with any other drivers, any injured passengers, or the owners of any damaged property. In addition to facing fines and imprisonment when failing to stop, you are also turning an accident into a crime, meaning that you may not be able to claim insurance to sort your car out.
What if I’ve Been in a Hit and Run?
If you ever find yourself involved in a hit and run in future, follow these steps:
1.Pull over: If you’re hit by another car, pull over in a safe place.
2.Check that you and your passengers are safe: If someone is seriously injured, call an ambulance straight away. As some injuries have delayed symptoms, even if you or the passengers feel fine it’s still recommended that you receive a medical evaluation. If you don’t get seen by a medical professional right away, make sure you do as soon as possible, especially if you need to claim insurance, otherwise the insurance company will claim that you were injured elsewear and not in the hit and run.
3.Call the police. If the offending driver has fled the scene, the police have the best chance of catching them. With every hour that passes, the trail grows colder and the likelihood of catching them fades. If you are the person that has hit another car, it’s still a good idea to call the police – unless it’s a minor accident.
4.Try to record the other drivers details: If the other car didn’t stop, try to write down any identifying features of the driver or car, such as the licence plate number, the make, model and colour of the car, and if possible a description of who was driving the car or the passengers. It’s also recommended to take photos of where the accident happened and any damage to your car.
What if the Other Driver Didn’t Stop, But I Got Their Registration Number?
Getting the plate of the offending driver is a huge advantage, so always try to do so if it’s possible. If you managed to get the details of the registration plate where the driver has fled the scene, you can contact the insurance commission in your state who will provide you with the details of that person’s compulsory third party insurer, so you are able to submit a claim!
What If I Couldn’t Identify the Other Driver?
If you were injured in a hit and run and were unable to identify the other driver during a hit and run incident, you are still able to claim under the nominal defendant scheme. This scheme was designed to ensure that people who are injured by an unknown vehicle can still have access to compensation. That being said, the scheme does vary between states and territories; however, it still universally allows individuals to access compensation from their insurance company when they’ve been injured by a person they can’t identify. Seeking legal advice from an expert motor vehicle accident lawyer is also recommended to help you receive the most you can compensation-wise – however, these lawyers can be pricey upfront.
Whatever you do, don’t put yourself in harm’s way to try and find the offending driver. Remember that your safety is the most important thing in an accident, so don’t take any risks to identify or chase the other driver.
If Someone in the Accident was Seriously Hurt or Died
For obvious reasons, It is a serious offence to flee an accident leaving casualties behind. Police can charge you with an indictable offence, which you could receive up to ten years prison time or a large fine – depending on the state. So, if you have been involved in a collision with a person, always stay behind to make sure they’re ok and call an ambulance to the scene.
Whilst we can do things to safeguard ourselves from such events, hit and runs can happen just as sure as any road-related accident. At the end of the day, it is important that we all do the right thing when faced with these situations, and remember what steps to take when you can’t be sure of others doing the right thing.
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