Zachary Schlagel, an 18-year-old from Windsor was killed in an accident on Austin Bluffs Parkway at Stanton Road in Colorado Springs recently. The El Paso County Coroner says he died from injuries inflicted in the collision. Schlagel and two other pedestrians were crossing lanes when a truck crashed into them. Another pedestrian escaped with only minor injuries. Police identified the truck and driver, but he has not yet been apprehended. Since 2014, the volume of traffic deaths in Colorado has risen nearly 25%, and in 2016 there were 605 fatalities, up from 547 in 2015. In addition, 16 bicyclists, 84 pedestrians, and 125 motorcyclists were killed in such accidents.
Hit-and-Run Accident Frequency
Recent Denver Police Department data indicates overall hit-and-run incidents totaled 5,447 for the year. In the Denver metro area, a fatal hit-and-run accident occurs almost daily. During warmer months, those walking and riding bicycles are much more likely to be victims. Roughly 22% of collisions involving bicycles have a party that flees the scene. When a pedestrian is killed, approximately 20% of the time a party flees the scene. Nationally, the Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported increases in the number of hit-and-run accidents and AAA's Safety Foundation concurred indicating that accidents involving a fatality have a 20% chance of being a hit-and-run.
Why Are Drivers Fleeing the Scene?
University of California researchers found those hitting pedestrians or bicyclists are the most likely to flee. This may suggest that in these instances motorists feel they have a good chance of not being apprehended if they flee rapidly. This study also suggests that alcohol is a factor in approximately 42% of incidents. The University of Vermont also studied hit-and-run accidents and summarized that many drivers simply determine they have more to lose by remaining at the scene. Other key contributors indicate that the driver may:
- Not have a driver's license or it is suspended.
- Not have the mandated liability insurance.
- Not be old enough to drive.
- Likely be charged with driving under the influence (DUI).*
*Those with prior DUI convictions are among the most likely to flee, as they face significant penalties
Colorado Laws & Enforcement
Lt. Rob Rock, Chief Traffic Investigator with the Denver Police Department, says his investigators work continuously for information regarding hit-and-run drivers. They generally continue to investigate until the state's three-year statute of limitations expires for injury cases or until reaching the five-year limit on fatal crashes. Colorado drivers must stop and remain at accident scenes when an injury or fatality occurs, unless it is necessary to reach emergency responders. Drivers who flee in these circumstances face criminal penalties and potential civil liabilities. When a death occurs, the criminal penalties escalate to felonies. State legislators in 2012 lengthened the jail time that courts may impose on hit-and-run offenders. Denver now employs a Medina Alert system, similar to the Amber Alert system, which broadcasts details including the vehicle description and license plate information.
Potential Impact of Illegal Immigrant Drivers
Research by the Immigration Lab at Stanford University indicated allowing immigrants to obtain driver-only type licenses may reduce the volume of hit-and-run incidents. They say the cost savings could be $17 million for insured drivers who may otherwise have to cover the costs that result from fleeing motorists. Their theory is motorists who are here illegally would be less inclined to consider fleeing if they have a license to operate and would not face arrest. Skeptics say that data needs to be analyzed over a longer time period to accurately evaluate. After California implemented the program, the number of licenses obtained far outweighed new vehicle registrations, leading many to believe immigrants here illegally were driving in registered vehicles anyhow.
What to Do if Involved in a Hit-and-Run
The State Farm Insurance Company posted their best practices:
- Seek immediate medical attention if injured.
- Contact law enforcement and obtain an accident report.
- Determine vehicle's make, model, color.
- Determine description of the driver.
- Observe the direction the vehicle is traveling.
- Note the accident location and time.
- Photograph damage to your vehicle.
- Do not attempt to follow a fleeing vehicle.
- Obtain contact information of any witnesses.
- Contact your insurer.
If you are in a hit-and-run accident or are a witness to one, heed the above best practices and contact the police immediately. You could be the link between finding the perpetrator and holding him or her accountable for the crime committed and the injuries sustained.