Grim Statistics: Why Are Hit-and-Run Accidents on the Rise?
What's the deal with hit-and-run accidents? Why would anyone be involved in a possibly fatal accident and flee from the scene?
It seems to defy common sense. If someone is injured, are not most people compelled to help them? If one is implicated in the injury or fatality of another, is it not even more important to do anything humanly possible to be of assistance?
The answer, it seems, is unfortunately "no." With a 19% jump in hit-and-runs from 1999 to 2001 and a continuously rising rate of hit-and-runs since 2003, people are opting to choose self-preservation over personal responsibility in many car accidents. Hit-and-run accidents are not limited to multiple-car crashes, either. One out of every 5 pedestrians killed on the roads die from a hit-and-run, according to a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
There are many factors contributing to the abundance of hit-and-runs, but a couple of the most prevalent are the number of unlicensed or illegal drivers and the fear of Driving Under the Influence penalties.
The AAA Foundation of Traffic Safety found that 21% of all fatal crashes from 1993-1999 involved drivers with no valid license. That is a huge percentage of people on the road, driving illegally. Nobody knows exactly how many unlicensed drivers there are, but the number is projected to be somewhere in the millions. Many believe the high number of hit-and-runs corresponds with the high number of illegal immigrants who are unlicensed. If an illegal immigrant was to stay on the scene of a car accident they could risk deportation and this fear promotes a "nothing to lose" mentality: that the consequences of fleeing are equal to or less than the consequences of being arrested for having no license and being involved in a fatal car crash.
According to a FARS report the top seven states with the largest populations of illegal immigrants are the top hit-and-run fatalities states. AAA found that unlicensed drivers are 66.36 times more likely to be a hit-and-run driver than a licensed driver. All these statistics show the association between unlicensed drivers and the hit-and-run.
But as occamsrazr.com points out, the hit-and-run is a subsequent crime committed after an initial crime. That someone flees from an accident is one crime. That someone flees from the accident and is an unlicensed driver is one minor violation and one crime. That someone flees from an accident and has a suspended license is two crimes. That someone has an alcohol-related accident and flees from the scene is two crimes. And if someone who has an alcohol-related accident and a suspended license flees from the scene, they are implicated in 3 crimes. These possible situations expose what the crime committer might be avoiding.
Still, the initial crime is that someone has been hit and possibly killed. The "run" is the secondary crime. Much has been done to reduce car accidents, namely ones involving alcohol and drugs. Since 1991 alcohol-impaired driving fatalities have declined by 26%. The enactment of strict penalties such as license revocation, a higher sentence depending on BAC (Blood Alcohol Content), the carry-over of previous DUI convictions from other states, enhanced penalties for repeat offenders, vehicle sanctions, and large fines have helped lower the prevalence of drunk driving.
The issue with stricter drunk driving policy is that it appears to cause people to run from the scene of a crime they would be held accountable for. Even in a state of inebriation, on average more than .15% when the legal limit is .08%, people flee to avoid their accumulating penalties and are often aware of loopholes. If a suspect of a crime flees, committing a drunk hit-and-run, and is able to sober-up before being located, they will incur less penalty than if they stayed on the scene.
Wisconsin has attempted to close the gap in this loophole. Where DUIs and homicide would incur a penalty of 25+ years of imprisonment, they have adjusted the hit-and-run and homicide combination to also warrant at least 25 years of imprisonment.
Apprehending drunk and dangerous driving situations is vital to stopping both the initial accident as well as the "run." Sobriety checkpoints, blanket patrols, publicized enforcement campaigns, and mobile videotaping are all ways police and highway patrol try to contain this multi-faceted issue.