What Are the Consequences of Not Stopping if You Are Involved in an Accident?

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Written By Rocky Horton

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You should be aware of the consequences of not stopping if you are involved in an accident. There are many post-accident steps that you and the other driver need to take, including receiving medical attention, contacting the police, and exchanging insurance information. If you leave the scene without doing these things, you could be charged with a hit-and-run, even if no one was hurt in the accident.

However, leaving the scene isn’t exactly the same as a hit-and-run. Since one is a misdemeanor and the other is a serious felony, you need to know the difference. To ensure that you are never charged with a hit-and-run or a misdemeanor for leaving the scene, here is our guide to the consequences of not stopping after a car accident.

What Happens in a Hit and Run Accident?

A hit-and-run accident is defined as an accident in which a driver flees the scene without making any effort to notify the police, call 911, assess the damage, exchange personal information, or make sure the people in the other car are okay. This happens when a driver doesn’t stop after a car accident, leaving the other car with potentially life-threatening injuries and no means to file a claim with the other driver’s insurer.

According to the AAA Foundation, 1,980 hit-and-run accidents in 2016 led to the deaths of one or more vehicle occupants (2,049 fatalities in total). According to the same studies, the number of these accidents has been increasing throughout the 21st century at a rate of around 7% per year.

Importantly, an accident can be classified as a hit-and-run even if no other people were involved. If you crash your car into property, such as a parked car or a mailbox, and make no effort to notify anyone, identify yourself, or pay for the damage, this could still be considered a hit-and-run. In some states, even hitting an animal without stopping qualifies.

Note that you can even be charged with a hit-and-run felony even if you didn’t cause the accident.

Criminal Penalties for Leaving the Scene of a Car Accident

Criminal penalties for a hit-and-run accident can be anywhere from $5,000 to $20,000 depending on the circumstances. As each state defines hit-and-run car accidents slightly differently, their penalties vary as well.

A state court may also rule that a hit-and-run felony deserves jail time, sometimes up to 15 years, especially if fatalities were involved. Even if it remains a misdemeanor, however, the consequences of not stopping after a car accident could still be severe, involving fines up to $5,000 and jail time up to a year.

Note that leaving the scene of a car accident does not always meet the definition of a hit-and-run accident. For example, a driver may offer assistance but leave before the authorities arrive. They may stop and identify themselves, feel that the injuries aren’t serious, and leave before the full post-accident procedure has concluded to the satisfaction of the other driver (and the law).

In a case like that, the court would take into consideration that the other driver made an effort to communicate and offer help. Such a case may not be classified as a hit-and-run, but it could still result in fines and other penalties from multiple parties, including the state and insurance company.

Administrative Penalties for Leaving the Scene of a Car Accident

Most people only think of criminal penalties in car accident cases, but administrative penalties enforced by the Department of Motor Vehicles in your state can be as serious as revoking your license. Some drivers lose their license for good or have it suspended for six months and up to three years.

The specific penalty depends on the state laws as well as the court’s assessment of the situation. Note that administrative penalties do not replace any criminal charges. You could be fined, put in jail, and have your license revoked all at once.

If your license is suspended, you must satisfy the court that issued the suspension in the form of an affidavit once the designated time has elapsed, pay a reinstatement fee, and reapply for your license. Reinstatement fees can be small, as low as $10 in Arizona. They can also be several hundred dollars. In Massachusetts, reinstatement fees can cost the suspended driver $1,200 just to drive again.

Civil Penalties for Leaving the Scene of a Car Accident

Civil penalties consist of the lawsuits that could be filed against you by the other driver or passengers, which would be charged to you on top of the other criminal and authoritative penalties. The lawsuit would include the damages they sustained, including the cost of their medical bills, the car damage, their lost working potential and wages, and their pain and suffering.

In some states, the courts can award the plaintiff what are called “treble damages,” which is an automatic tripling of the settlement awarded in a civic suit if the other driver is convicted of a hit-and-run. There are also punitive damages, which are not paid to cover expenses but in recognition of the other driver’s reckless behavior.

Neither of these extra civil penalties will likely be covered by your insurance. As an example, if personal and punitive damages total $15,000, which they easily could, the hit-and-run driver could be paying $45,000 completely out-of-pocket. Remember that this isn’t covering the car damage, the insurance penalties, or the criminal charges. This is paid by the hit-and-run driver solely for leaving the scene.

Insurance Penalties for Leaving the Scene of a Car Accident

Insurance companies often cancel the policies of those who are convicted of leaving the scene of a car accident. Even if your charge is reduced to a misdemeanor, they will likely view your behavior as a risk to them and act accordingly. If they don’t cancel your plan, they will likely raise your rates to compensate for the increased risk to them.

Note that if your license is suspended or revoked, this by itself could endanger your insurance plan. This is especially true for workers whose jobs require driving. By staying at the accident and following the proper procedure, you could lose some money. By leaving the scene of the accident, you could lose your job, insurance, license, and thousands of dollars more in all the separate state, personal, and corporate penalties that you will be responsible for paying.

Is a Hit and Run Considered an Accident to Insurance

Hit-and-runs are considered accidents in the insurance policies of the victims only. Those who flee the scene and are then sued later may not be able to claim the damages through the policy. This is true regardless of who was at fault for the accident.

How Long After a Hit and Run Accident Can You be Charged?

The statute of limitations on a hit-and-run accident differs by state, but it can range from as short as one year to as long as six. The nature of the case also makes a difference since some will be personal injury claims while others will be wrongful death cases. On average, if no one has charged you in three years, the statute has probably expired.

If you need to file for compensation after a hit-and-run accident, you shouldn’t use the full-time allowed. The sooner you apply for compensation, the more likely it is that the authorities will be able to find the perpetrator, if they’re still unidentified.

Defenses to Leaving the Scene of a Car Accident

There are a few potential defenses available to those who leave the scene of a car accident, which could reduce or cancel their sentence. The main defense is that the driver didn’t realize an accident occurred, so they didn’t know they were leaving a crash scene. This can happen if their actions, such as a sudden turn, cause a car to crash behind them out of their eyesight.

Another common defense is an emergency that requires the driver’s immediate attention, such as someone injured or pregnant in their car. They may be driving to the hospital when they cause the crash and choose to leave the scene for the safety of themselves or others in the car.

What the state is required to prove

In a hit-and-run car accident case, the state is usually required to prove that the driver knew or should have known about the accident and failed to stop without intending to return, identifying themselves, or offering any assistance.

What to Do in a Hit and Run Car Accident

Here are the general steps you should take after a hit-and-run car accident:

  1. Check for injuries – Your first responsibility is to the safety of yourself and your passengers.
  2. Call 911 – Call the police and report any injuries so they can send medical assistance.
  3. Check for damages – Check the state of the car so you know if it should be evacuated or moved.
  4. Gather evidence – Record what happened so you can tell the police, including the color and make of the other car. Take pictures of the scene.
  5. Stay calm – It’s important to remain calm as police arrive so you can accurately report the incident.
  6. Notify the insurer – Report the accident to your insurance company as soon as possible.

These steps apply if you are the victim of a hit-and-run accident. If you are the at-fault driver and you are choosing to drive away from the scene, you should still call and report the accident so the victims can receive medical help. Ideally, you would stay at the scene and do the above list instead.

Do I Need a Lawyer for a Hit and Run Car Accident?

An experienced lawyer can help with a hit-and-run accident regardless of whether you are the victim or the at-fault driver. Even if you are charged with leaving the scene, you may have a defense that can reduce your sentence and fines or keep your license from being revoked.

You stand a much better chance of a lighter sentence (or greater compensation) if you enlist the help of an attorney who specializes in car accident cases. Remember that insurance companies are not your friend after a car accident, even if you are the victim. They will always look for ways to cut compensation.


The consequences of not stopping after a car accident do not stop at criminal fines and charges. They also include civil lawsuits, insurance penalties, and state penalties enforced by your DMV. Whether you were the victim or the at-fault driver, an experienced car accident attorney can help you with your case.

Rocky Horton

Rocky Horton


Rocky Horton is a health and safety expert from Chapel Hill, NC. He is the founder of AccidentAdvisor and has been featured in Forbes, Bloomberg, and other publications. Learn more.