February is Hit and Run Awareness month in Florida. The Florida Highway Patrol (FHP) has partnered with the Florida Sheriffs Association, Florida Police Chiefs Association, Florida Department of Transportation, and AAA to remind motorists about the importance of staying on the scene when involved in an accident in the hopes of reducing the number of hit and run incidents.
The FHP reports that fatalities caused by hit and run accidents increased 23 percent from 2013 to 2014. In Manatee County alone, hit and run crashes increased from 1,172 in 2013 to 1,339 in 2014. In Sarasota County, 2013 saw 1,017 hit and run incidents while 2014 had 1,036. From 2013 to 2016, hit and run accidents increased in Florida from 78,661 to 99,004. In 2016, only 15,851 of them eventually resulted in charges even though 179 resulted in fatalities.
Those who face the greatest risk of being a victim of a hit and run accident are bicyclists and pedestrians. More than 55 percent of the hit and run fatalities in Florida in 2016 were pedestrians. During that same time period, over one third of those who were charged were 18-28 years old, and 70 percent of them were male.
If you’re involved in an accident, it is not only your responsibility to do the right thing and remain on the scene until help can arrive, it is the law. According to Florida law, a driver must stop at the scene of a crash in which an injury or death is involved, whether it is on public or private property. Leaving the scene of an accident in which you are involved could be considered a felony and could result in a serious sentence, including a suspended driver’s license or time in prison.
Even if a hit and run accident only results in property damage, it is still a second-degree misdemeanor with penalties of $500 and up to 60 days in jail. However, if the accident results in a personal injury to another person, whether they are auto drivers, bicyclists, or pedestrians, the offense is considered a second or third-degree felony, which could carry penalties of up to a $5,000 fine and up to five years in prison and/or five years of probation. If the hit and run accident results in a fatality, those charged could be convicted of a first-degree felony with penalties including a $10,000 fine and up to 30 years in prison.
While accidents certainly do happen, taking responsibility for it is very important. Sometimes, at-fault drivers panic due to the sheer nature of the accident, and sometimes it may be due to the fact that they had been drinking or driving on a suspended license. Sometimes, drivers just don’t think the accident is that serious and see no reason to report it. However, fleeing the scene of an accident could make things much worse for the at-fault driver if they are eventually charged.
But February’s Hit and Run Awareness month is not only about creating more awareness for motorists, but also for those who witness hit and run accidents as they occur. If you see a hit and run accident happen, you can report it anonymously through the Crimeline at 1-800-423-8477, or report it directly by dialing *FHP (*347).
If you have been injured in a hit and run accident, you have the right to seek damages for your medical bills, to replace lost wages, for property damages, as well as personal injuries. Contact Wittmer | Linehan to see how we can help. To find out more about the “Stay at the Scene” initiative and increasing awareness of hit and run accidents, you can visit http://www.flhsmv.gov/stayatthescene.