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Leaving the Scene of an Accident: Why It’s Not a Good Idea

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A car accident can be a traumatic experience, but it’s vital that you stay at the scene until authorities arrive. Driving away from the accident, even if you and the other driver come to an agreement, can land you in hot water if the other party changes their mind. Even if you were the victim of an accident, you could be seen by a jury as at-fault should you leave the scene of an accident before authorities arrive. Find out why you’re better off staying at an accident, what to expect from authorities after one, and the circumstances under which you can leave. 

What happens if you leave the scene of an accident?

After a collision, you might think it’s okay to leave, especially if no one got hurt. No harm, no foul, right? Unfortunately, even if you and the other driver exchanged insurance information, the police will likely come looking for you. For this reason, lawyers advise against leaving the scene of the accident.

Staying at the scene of a crash can also prevent you from appearing to be the guilty party as police conduct their investigation.

Police investigation after an accident

After an accident, police will eventually arrive at the scene and investigate what happened. They’ll look at any damage and will interview nearby witnesses. With the ubiquity of security cameras, it’s also likely they’ll be able to pull footage of the crash. This will in all likelihood be enough to identify you.

Once the police know who you are, they will come to your home or place of employment. They may even take out a warrant for your arrest, allowing them to take you into custody whenever they find you. This can come as a rude surprise, making it wise to avoid this outcome by waiting for authorities at the scene of your crash.

It’s not hit and run – Isn’t it?

Unfortunately, if you leave the scene of an accident without waiting for authorities to arrive, it technically is considered a hit-and-run, and you may be charged with it. The severity of your charges will depend on the degree of damage done. You may face the following charges or lawsuits should you commit a hit-and-run:

  • Misdemeanour: Property damage but no injuries or loss of life.
  • Felony: Injuries and/or loss of life.
  • Civil lawsuit: You may be sued for damages that occurred as a result of the accident.

The simple fact is that fleeing the scene of an accident places you at a major disadvantage when it comes to establishing that you aren’t at fault for your accident. Juries do not look favourably on those that flee the scene of an accident. Additionally, if you were injured, you’ll have an extremely difficult time winning compensation for it. The other party can easily make the case that your injuries did not occur as a result of the accident or can minimize the extent to which the accident caused them.

When can you leave the scene of an accident?

There are a few select instances when you may leave the immediate scene of an accident and locate a safer location nearby. These are generally limited to situations in which you are in danger if you stay at the location, such as if a vehicle has the potential to explode, or if you are unable to communicate to authorities that you’ve been in an accident, such as due to poor cell phone service. In some localities, budget cuts have meant that police stop responding in-person to hit-and-run incidents. In the vast majority of cases, it’s best to wait with your car until the police arrive.

Tommy Williamson did his degree in psychology at the University of Edinburgh. He has an ongoing interest in mental health and well-being.

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