In this second segment of the Who is Responsible series, we discuss another major roadway safety concern in Colorado. Hit-and-run accidents are a disturbing trend where motorists involved in collisions choose to immediately flee the scene. We will look at recent local examples, review data indicating the scope of the problem, insurance considerations, potential civil and criminal liability, and laws and actions being taken.
Recent Denver Incidents
- Police in Denver are searching for a driver who collided with a pedestrian at 20th and Blake. It was a black Range Rover with CO license plate VXQ677 & significant front-end damage.
- A pedestrian was hit and incurred severe injuries at Federal Boulevard & West Holden Place—the driver fled.
- 21-year-old Marian Apodaca was the suspected driver in a hit-and-run accident involving a bicyclist.
- David Pickett was killed in a hit-and-run while riding his bicycle to work.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration saw significant spikes in hit-and-run accidents recently, including a 14% increase in 2011. AAA's Traffic Safety Foundation reports that 20% of traffic fatalities are hit-and-runs. In Colorado, roughly three fatalities occur monthly from hit-and-runs. Denver averaged a staggering 530 monthly accidents in 2016, up from 482 in 2015. In the greater Denver area at least one fatal hit-and-run occurs daily. Pueblo Police reported 1,034 such accidents in 2016. Colorado ranks #10 in hit-and-run deaths nationally.
Bicyclists & Pedestrian Victims
In warmer months, pedestrians and bicyclists are likely victims. Twenty-two percent of Denver bicycle crashes result in someone leaving the scene. Bicyclists and pedestrians are victims in roughly 2 of 3 hit-and-run fatalities. Bicyclists are the party who flees the scene under 3% of the time. In rural areas, or late at night, hit-and-run victims may experience lengthy delays in access to medical treatment, making moderate injuries progress in severity--even leading to death.
Why Are They Fleeing?
Sara Solnick of the University of Vermont completed a study on hit-and-run accidents. She says the decision to flee is one where the driver feels he or she had more to lose if they remained at the accident scene. Often these drivers have suspended licenses, no liability insurance, or are not old enough to drive (or drink). Alcohol is a large factor, as the penalties for DUI are now about the most severe of all misdemeanors, particularly for those with prior convictions. Many times a driver will quickly conclude they are likely to “get away with it.”
Mandatory liability insurance is not designed to cover damage to your vehicle. Collision insurance, which typically has a deductible, pays for your vehicle damage or replacement. Uninsured motorist policies usually do not apply in hit-and-run incidents; California, Colorado, Illinois, Louisiana and Ohio specifically exclude that possibility. Injuries are generally covered under a part of the policy, often known as personal injury protection (PIP), medical coverage or uninsured bodily injury. Some states have compensation funds for victims of crime.
Drivers are required to stop at all accidents involving bodily injury or death, unless leaving temporarily to contact emergency assistance. When practical, those in accidents should assist the injured to obtain medical care. Those persons who leave the scene following an accident that involves injury face a criminal misdemeanor traffic offense, in addition to civil liability. These penalties are elevated to a felony if the accident resulted in death, and driver's license suspension or revocation is likely.
In 2012, legislature raised the incarceration periods for those leaving the scene of accidents involving injuries. The Medina Alert initiative began in Denver, and it broadcasts vehicle descriptions, partial license plates numbers and other key information regarding the fleeing suspects in hopes of apprehending them. This programs uses a similar platform to the Amber Alert notifications. In the long-term, vehicle autonomy and communications systems will likely allow for faster notification alerts.
Vehicle accidents are difficult situations which can result in property losses, injuries, and death. When a party chooses to flee the scene, it simply makes matters worse. Bicyclists and pedestrians in proximity of traffic are at high risk for hit-and-run incidents.
Our next segment discusses the concept of “road rage” and the problems associated with it on Colorado roadways.