This post is part of EverQuote’s Traffic Ticket Series. Learn more about other traffic tickets and how they affect auto insurance here.

Leaving the scene of an accident is dangerous and can have serious consequences. There are several actions that should be taken following a car crash, and leaving is not one of them. That said, human impulses aren’t always smart—the urge to flee when something’s wrong sometimes overrides all common sense. A hit-and-run is a completely avoidable offense, and because of that, the penalties are quite costly.

What Is a Hit-and-Run?

There’s the more obvious hit-and-runs that you see on the news with drivers striking victims and deliberately driving off, but there’s also the less obvious cases, in which a driver hits an object like a tree or mailbox and leaves the scene. Even though another person may not have been involved, the act is still a collision and is still classified as a hit-and-run.

A hit-and-run occurs when a driver causes an accident and fails to stop, give their information or aid those in need. This can occur between two vehicles, between a car and person and between a car and property such as trees or objects.

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It typically doesn’t matter whether you caused the collision or not. It’s not a matter of who is at-fault—though, of course, that is important later—but whether or not you drove off instead of dealing with the situation at hand.

In general, if there’s an accident you should exchange information with whomever else is involved and call the police to report the crash. If you’re unsure of whether or not you are required to report the crash, call anyways and let the officers decide. It’s better to take action at the time than fall into trouble later.  

Fines and Penalties for a Hit-and-Run:

Learn about the laws in your state, as hit-and-run consequences can vary depending on your location. In general, the penalties are much steeper if there is a death or injury involved—the severity of the crash may determine whether the offense is considered a felony or if it is downgraded to a misdemeanor.

As an example of the degrees of consequences, take a look at the state of Washington’s hit-and-run penalties...

cops after a hit and run

One-Vehicle Crash, Property Damage:

  • Classified as a misdemeanor
  • Fine up to $1,000
  • Jail time up to 90 days

Two-Vehicle Crash:

  • Classified as a gross misdemeanor
  • Fine up to $5,000
  • Jail time up to 364 days

Two-Vehicle Crash, Death or Injury:

  • Classified as a A, B or C felony. Class C is for injury, class B is for death and class A involves additional aggravating circumstances.
  • Class A fine up to $50,000, class B up to $20,000 and class C up to $10,000
  • Class A jail up to life imprisonment, class B up to 10 years, class C up to 5 years
  • Revocation of license for 1 year        

You may also be convicted of other offenses, such as reckless driving, which may come with additional charges. If an alcohol or drug use is suspected, additional treatment programs may be required. In certain cases, community service hours can replace jail time or fines.

The Effect of a Hit-and-Run on Car Insurance:

A hit-and-run accident is not easily forgiven as it’s one of the most serious offenses that can occur behind the wheel. While it’s possible that it may take your insurer a little while to find out, depending on the seriousness of the crash and when you last renewed your policy, your premium will likely rise when the offense is discovered.

If you’re in a “points system” state, you may see larger insurance hikes. A points system operates by awarding points based on traffic violations. Once a certain amount is reached, your license may be suspended or revoked. A hit-and-run could add 4 to 6 points to your driving record.

Your insurance will go up after a suspended or revoked license because it signifies to your insurer that you are a high-risk driver. If your state automatically revokes your license upon conviction of a hit-and-run, you will see consequences later. If you have to file an SR-22 form, you’ll likely see an increase.

How to Bring Your Rate Back Down:

There are several possible ways to bring your auto insurance premium down. However, it may not be as easy to with an offense as severe as a hit-and-run.

Wait it out. Yes, it will take awhile but if you demonstrate a safe, clean driving record over time, your hit-and-run may affect your premium less. Be aware and focus on the road to avoid other traffic violations. Demonstrate that you care about driving safe.

Knock off some points. If you’re in a state that uses a points system, a safe driving course may reduce your points, which could help save you from a license suspension or revocation depending on your state’s laws.

Fight the offense. If you believe you have a solid case, it may be worth fighting the hit-and-run in court so that you can have it removed from your driving record. This may not be possible on your own, so remember that it may be costly to hire a lawyer, and you must have a strong case.

Take a defensive driving course to bring your rate down. They aren’t that expensive, and they can pay off big. A defensive driving course may get any driver a discount, but it can be especially handy if you’ve had a lot of infractions.

Check with your agent to be sure you’re receiving all of the discounts that you qualify for. Be sure to mention alumni programs or other organizations as even those can get you car insurance savings.

Driving away from an accident is reckless behavior. Don’t put yourself or others in danger behind the wheel. A hit-and-run is completely avoidable. Remember, you can always stop and check. There have been multiple accounts of drivers who continue to drive thinking that they hit a deer or another animal, when in fact they’ve seriously injured a pedestrian or a biker. If you ever believe there’s a possibility that you may have hit something, stop to look. It could save a life and no destination is as important as that. 

Photo credit: Boris Thaser