Hit and Run Accidents
Hit-and-run accidents are on the rise in Philadelphia and New Jersey, as well as in many major United States cities. According to the non-profit organization Families Against Hit and Runs, about 600,000 hit-and-run crashes occur every year, and a third of those accidents result in serious or fatal injuries – primarily among pedestrians and bicyclists.
In 2016, pedestrians accounted for roughly half of the people killed in Philadelphia traffic crashes. In many of those cases, the driver sped off without checking to see if the victim was injured, and without calling for help. Thankfully, footage from roadside traffic cameras and eyewitness reports have helped police track down and apprehend many hit-and-run drivers.
Drivers who strike and injure other citizens should be held accountable for their actions. If you’ve been injured in a hit-and-run crash in Philadelphia or New Jersey, you might be entitled to compensation. Contact the personal injury attorneys at Wapner Newman to request your free, no-obligation case consultation: (800) 529-6600.
Philadelphia Hit and Run Crashes
A string of serious and fatal hit-and-run crashes occurred in Philadelphia in September and October, and in November some families were still waiting for suspects to be found and charged.
Just after midnight on Sept. 1, a 19-year-old bicyclist died at the hospital after he was struck by a car. At least two other people died that month after a hit-and-run driver struck them.
In October, two male pedestrians were fatally struck just one day apart – in both accidents, surveillance footage captured images of the vehicles that killed the men. And on Oct. 24, a woman was run down and severely injured in an intersection in West Philadelphia.
It’s hard for hit-and-run crash victims and their families to understand how a driver could leave someone lying in the road, without making any effort to help them. And it’s also hard for police to understand why hit-and-run crashes have increased in the city. But there are several factors that may make a driver more likely to flee the scene: fear of arrest (for intoxicated driving or other driving-related offenses); poor judgment, due to drug or alcohol intoxication; and panic. Regardless of why people flee the scene, they have the opportunity to turn themselves into police later, but many never do.
In a 2015 article in The Inquirer about hit-and-run crashes, Sarah Stuart, deputy director of the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, said, “We shouldn’t be calling any of these crashes accidents. They’re mistakes that people made that unfortunately have very deleterious consequences.”
Why Do Drivers Flee Hit and Run Accident Scenes?
What makes a driver who possibly has no other criminal record suddenly commit a criminal act like that one? According to a Washington Post article from fall 2018, the answer might lie in basic human psychology.
All vehicle operators are uniquely wired, but they may share some commonalities when it comes to hit-and-run actions.
The first can be a sense of shock. However, the brain may be incapable of dealing with the shock to such an extent that it blocks out what happened. For instance, as the Post piece discussed, some hit-and-run situations are quite graphic, with victims embedded into cars. Yet those drivers still drove home and somehow convinced themselves what they were seeing wasn’t real.
Similarly, other hit-and-run drivers tell themselves they couldn’t have hit a human. Instead, they talk themselves into believing that they just hit a deer and moved on. This response is common, according to police officers. Although in some cases it may be a clear sign of lying by the at-fault driver, in other cases it may be a sincere belief on the part of the operator.
Finally, other drivers who get away from accidents without reporting injuries or fatalities, or even checking on their victims, are afraid of being charged with driving under the influence (DUI). An example would be someone who is intoxicated who hits a pedestrian in a crosswalk. Instead of stopping the vehicle, the driver catastrophizes the idea of getting a DUI, but never thinks about the possibility of extensive jail time and financial punishments for leaving the scene of an accident.
Facing the Consequences
In May 2016, a Philadelphia man appeared at police headquarters at 8 a.m. to confess to crashing into a SEPTA platform the night before and harming a pedestrian. Police said rain and speed contributed to the crash that killed a pedestrian who was on the sidewalk at the SEPTA stop, and they charged the driver with homicide by vehicle, involuntary manslaughter, causing an accident while not properly licensed, and fleeing the scene of a fatal accident.
Not all crashes that kill pedestrians or bicyclists are the driver’s fault. Sometimes, people enter traffic unexpectedly, and drivers don’t have time to brake. At nighttime, and in rainy or foggy weather, poor visibility may make pedestrians and cyclists harder to see. But drivers should – and are legally required to – report the accident and the victim’s injuries, and to remain at the scene. Even when a driver is not at fault for a crash, fleeing the scene is a criminal offense.
PA Hit and Run Law
According to Pennsylvania civil code, Title 75, Subchapter C, subsection 3742, the penalties for leaving the scene of an accident are:
- A first-degree misdemeanor, if injuries are minor.
- A third-degree felony, with a minimum of 90 days’ imprisonment and a minimum fine of $1,000.
- If the victim dies, fleeing the scene becomes a second-degree felony, with a minimum prison sentence of 3 years and a fine of at least $2,500.
- If police can prove the hit-and-run driver was intoxicated, the driver may be charged with both a third-degree felony and a second-degree felony.
Unfortunately, for the families of those killed in hit-and-run crashes, there may seem to be little justice. While police have had success at tracking down cars involved in hit-and-run accidents, it’s hard to prove who was driving at the time of the crash. And even when police can establish that the driver was speeding, many crashes result in no criminal charges whatsoever. An article in The Inquirer proposed that one reason police don’t pursue criminal charges in some crashes is that they assume victims will be compensated by the insurer of the offending driver. Yet, those funds may be inadequate to cover all losses.
Safety On The Roads Matters
It’s important for drivers to understand that even if they don’t think they killed someone they hit, they need to stay at the site until help arrives. Not only is this the law in Pennsylvania and around the country, but it’s the right thing to do.
In most cases, disciplinary action will be far lighter for drivers who admit their mistakes than for those who don’t. Plus, it could literally save a life if a victim requires emergency attention and would otherwise be left alone without the at-fault driver’s assistance.
Help for Victims
If a hit-and-run crash caused your serious injuries, or fatally injured your immediate family member, you need an experienced car accident attorney on your side. Contact Wapner Newman online, or at (800) 529-6600, to request your free case consultation.