According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, more than one hit-and-run crash happens every minute on America’s roads. As a matter of fact they have hit an all-time high – and they’re increasing, says a new AAA study.
It’s a trend going the wrong way and showing no signs of stopping or turning around any time soon.
Hit-and-runs occur when at least one person involved in the crash flees the scene before offering help or information to others involved. While hit-and-runs typically occur between two moving cars, they may also involve pedestrians, bicyclists, motorcycles, parked cars, and other property.
Hit-and-runs are serious business and can increase the cost of medical care, including the severity of outcomes, given delays or total absence of medical attention for victims and for families who are looking for remediation and insurance support. Experts say staying to help the injured victim could save a life.
Not only have hit-and-runs become more common, they are increasing. Let’s see why.
Putting Hit & Runs in Perspective
Here’s what AAA’s study shows about the severity and frequency of hit-and-runs.
- The North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) says that there were 56 recorded hit-and-run crashes in 2017.
- Nationally, hit-and-runs account for over 5% of traffic fatalities.
- Nationally, there’s an average increase of 7.2% every year.
- Fleeing drivers accounted for 20% of pedestrian crash fatalities.
- Nearly 65% of people killed due to hit-and-runs are pedestrians and bicyclists.
- In 2016, 2,049 people were killed in hit-and-runs, a 60% increase since 2009 and the highest number ever.
To put it in perspective, that’s almost six deaths per day and more than one hit-and-run every minute on US roadways.
What’s with the Trend?
No one knows exactly why there is an increase in hit-and-run collisions, but there are many theories, ranging from population increase to distracted drivers, including drivers who are on their cell phones while driving.
With a population of 292 million, the US is the third most populous country in the world. And the US Census anticipates the population to double during this century.
North Carolina’s population is 10.3 million. And with a birth every eight seconds, our state is ranked as the fifth fastest-growing state in the nation.
So what does this mean for hit-and-runs? It means there are far more people on the road which increases the number of collisions, including the likelihood of hit-and-runs.
When the economy is doing well, more people have money to buy gas and travel. Many can also afford their own cars, cell phones, Bluetooth devices, and other technological devices that may take their mind off driving and contribute to the spike of collisions.
Another theory for the increase of hit-and-runs centers on distracted driving, namely cell phone usage.
In many states, including North Carolina, texting and driving is illegal, meaning that a collision due to phone usage turns an accident into a criminal offense. This is something scary enough to send a driver fleeing the scene and creating a hit-and-run.
A new Zendrive study has revealed what many of us intuitively suspected. Americans use their phones nearly every single time they get behind the wheel. The study also found that drivers spend 3.5 minutes every hour on their phones while driving, even though a two-second distraction increases the chances of a crash by 20 times.
Driving a vehicle drunk or impaired is a crime. Like texting and driving, fear of that criminal charge on top of causing a collision could lead someone to flee the scene, effectively creating a whole new criminal charge.
Every day, nearly 30 people in the US die because of alcohol-related vehicle crashes – or, one person every 50 minutes in 2016, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
In North Carolina, alone, there was a 50% increase in driving while impaired cases from 2014 to 2015.
While these represent only a few theories on the hit-and-run increase, there is no definitive answer as to why hit-and-runs have continued to increase.
The Motivation to Run: Hit-and-Run Characteristics
Leaving the scene of a collision is illegal in every state and can lead to serious criminal charges. In North Carolina, even a misdemeanor hit-and-run (which would involve property damage or minor injury) carries a potential sentence of up to one year in jail as well as fines.
According to Jennifer Ryan, director of state relations at AAA, “While no one likes being involved in a crash, leaving the scene will significantly increase the penalties for drivers – whether they caused the crash or not.”
Yet, it happens over a thousand times a day.
Who Are Hit-and-Run Victims?
- Fatally injured pedestrians under age six or over age 80 were half as likely to be victims of hit-and-runs as in any other age groups.
- In crashes involving children, the driver is identified more than 60% of the time versus 39% for older victims.
- Males make up around 70% of hit-and-run victims in crashes.
Who Are Hit-and-Run Drivers?
- Drivers are likely to be young males with a history of prior DWI and license suspension.
- Drivers tend to drive older model cars, suggesting a lower socioeconomic status.
- Drivers frequently have positive blood alcohol content (BAC) at the time of arrest, and drivers who leave the scene are between two and nine times more likely to have been intoxicated at the time of the crash.
- Drivers who flee crashes involving children ages 15 and younger or women are more likely to be identified later on.
- Drivers are about twice as likely to be identified in hit-and-runs when they happen in locations other than the road or crosswalks.
What Factors Contribute to Hit-and-Runs?
- Environmental factors tend to be associated with the likelihood of a hit-and-run crash. These factors may include lighting, roadway design, and location.
- In general, the greater the visibility of a crash, the less likely it will turn into a hit-and-run. Visibility may include lighting conditions, but it can also involve the number of potential witnesses, such as on heavily trafficked roads.
- Contrastingly, higher pedestrian traffic increases the chance of a hit-and-run, though these are half as likely to occur in the daylight as opposed to nighttime when lower visibility improves a driver’s chance to flee.
- Hit-and-runs are almost 4.5 times more likely to occur between the hours of midnight and 4 a.m., compared to crashes between 8 a.m. and noon. Nighttime, in addition to increasing the chance to escape because of low visibility, typically involves more risky behaviors like driving without a license or driving while intoxicated (DWI) – crimes that could motivate someone to flee the scene.
- Types of roadways may also affect the likelihood of a hit-and-run. For example, undivided roadways or roads with lower speed limits increase the chance of hit-and-runs mostly because they are the roads pedestrians are more likely to cross versus high-speed interstates with minimal exposure to pedestrians.
- And, not surprisingly, urban areas have more hit-and-runs than low-population areas.
Countermeasures: What You Can Do
These statistics are alarming. What can you do to avoid being another victim of the increasing number of hit-and-runs?
When a Collision Happens
If you are in a vehicle and are the victim of a hit-and-run, follow these steps as you are able:
- Pull over to get out of traffic. Write down or take a picture of the license plate number of the other vehicle. Police say that many victims are tricked when the driver of the other vehicle appears to pull over but then takes off, leaving behind a very confused victim.
- Try to get a description of the vehicle and where it is heading as it speeds away.
- Contact law enforcement immediately and tell them everything you know about the driver and what happened.
- Photograph the damage.
- Stay This can be very difficult to do if you are the victim of a hit-and-run, but panicking largely decreases your chance of getting that viable information that can be used to find the person responsible.
Avoid a Hit-and-Run as a Pedestrian
A pedestrian hit-and-run can be a little more challenging. Here are some safety tips to keep in mind as a pedestrian to try to reduce the risk of being hit by a car.
- Wear bright colors or reflectors so you can be more visible to drivers. Colors that easily reflect light, like white or yellow, are good choices. Reflectors can make you visible in a car’s headlights up to 500 feet.
- Stay on the sidewalks and crosswalks, especially at night.
- Stay off roads without sidewalks, or walk against traffic if there are no sidewalks. Walking against traffic allows you to see oncoming cars that might not see you.
- Look where you are going. When crossing a street, look left, right, and then left again.
- Be alert. You can’t control what other people are doing, but by being alert, you can control what you’re doing and how you might need to react to a potential situation.
Of course, none of these things can guarantee safety, but by doing your best to stay safe, you are potentially reducing your risk.