Is Leaving the Scene of an Accident the Same as Hit and Run?
Simply put, hit and run generally means the same thing as leaving the scene of an accident- it’s the term that’s more familiar to the general public. “Leaving the Scene of An Accident” is used in the legal context. A hit and run crime is committed when a person leaves the scene of an accident, whether the crash resulted in injuries, death, or damage to a vehicle or other property, even if a driver is not at fault. As such, a person cannot get charged with hit and run if they remain at the accident scene and follow certain steps.
Technically, however, there is a slight difference between a hit and run and leaving an accident scene. A hit and run involves leaving the scene WITHOUT stopping, exchanging certain information, and/or helping the victims. So, if you follow these steps and leave the crash scene afterward, you should be in the clear. In other words, you may leave the scene of an accident only if you satisfy the steps below.
Despite this technicality, “hit and run” and “leaving the scene of an accident” are often used interchangeably.
Section 316.061 of the Florida Statutes states that the driver of any vehicle involved in a crash resulting in vehicle/property damage must do the following:
- Immediately stop their vehicle at the scene of the crash; and
- remain at the scene until they fulfill the below requirements:
- give their name, address, contact details, and vehicle registration information
- upon request, show their valid driver’s license to the victim or owner of the damaged property
- render reasonable assistance to crash victims (I.e., calling an ambulance).
- If the crash victim is not in a condition to receive your information and the police aren’t present, you should follow the steps above AND call the police to file a report.
If a driver doesn’t satisfy the steps above, they could get a second-degree misdemeanor charge punishable by up to 60 days in prison and/or $500 fines.
What are the consequences for a Leaving the Scene of an Accident involving bodily injury or death? If you willfully leave the scene of an accident involving injuries and don’t fulfill the steps above, you may be looking at a third-degree felony charge that carries a penalty of up to 5 years in prison or 5 years’ probation and/or $5,000 fines.
On the other hand, drivers who are responsible for accidents involving SERIOUS bodily injury could face a second-degree felony charge if they willfully fail to complete the requirements listed above. A conviction may result in a maximum 15-year prison sentence and up to $10,000 fines.
The most serious hit and run crime is one that results in death. Willfully leaving the scene of an accident that results in death is a first-degree felony punishable by 35 years and $10,000 fines. Not only could you suffer hit and run charges, but also accusations for reckless driving, DUI (if applicable), vehicular manslaughter, driving while license suspended/revoked/canceled, and more.
However, a driver could potentially avoid hit and run charges if the crash happened while operating a self-driving vehicle with the automated driving system engaged and the driver immediately contacted the police to file a police report after the accident.
Hit and Run with Property Damage vs. Bodily Injury or Death
There is a key difference between hit and runs involving property damage and those involving bodily injury, serious bodily injury, and death.
Prosecutors must show that you WILFULLY fled the scene of an accident involving injury or death. For hit and runs involving damage to vehicles or other property, prosecutors only have to prove that you committed the crime ― not your willingness to do so.
Why Do People Flee the Accident Scene After a Hit and Run?
Hitting anything or anyone with your vehicle can be terrifying, but for many people, their first instinct is to leave the scene of the accident. Why? Reasons for feeling the scene after a hit and run include:
- The driver is under the influence
- The driver is driving a stolen vehicle
- The driver is an undocumented immigrant
- The driver has an outstanding warrant for their arrest
- The driver has a suspended license
- The driver does not have insurance
Is It a Hit and Run If You Come Back to the Crash Scene?
Let’s say you left the scene of an accident for one or more of the reasons listed above. But once the guilt and remorse sunk in, you decided to return to the accident scene. Frankly, this typically won’t change anything. You could still get charged for leaving the scene of an accident even if you return to the accident scene. This is because prosecutors may conclude that you were aware of the accident but decided to flee anyways.
With this in mind, it doesn’t matter why you chose to leave the accident scene. Simply doing so is enough for prosecutors to build a case against you.
As a former prosecutor with over three decades of experience, I know what you’re up against and I will make every effort to de-escalate your situation. After reviewing the facts surrounding your charges, I can put together a detailed, hard-hitting defense strategy to help prevent your bad situation from getting worse.
Call Jonathan Blecher, P.A. at (305) 330-1976 to schedule your free consultation!