The Law Of… failing to stop at the scene of an accident
A new study has revealed that hit-and-run accidents have increased over the course of the past decade, hitting a peak in 2015.
Julie Robertson, Head of Motoring and Criminal Defences at Simpson Millar, looks at the figures and provides the answers regarding the offence of failing to stop at the scene of an accident.
Hit-And-Run Accidents Are On The Increase
The research was carried out by the University of Leicester on behalf of the Motor Insurers' Bureau (MIB) and found that in 2015 there were 17,122 road accidents in which a driver either failed to stop or left the scene without leaving their details. Of these, 77 involved fatalities.
This meant that hit-and-runs made up 12.2% of all accidents on UK roads, the highest rate since records began in 2005.
The study also found that reasons given for leaving the scene of an accident ranged from the belief the damage was only trivial, to no actual knowledge of there being an accident in the first place. Another motive – one that it is suggested could be behind the recent increase in hit-and-run incidents – was self-preservation. Some motorists revealed they got the impression they were being 'set up' for an insurance fraud, with victims 'over-playing' the extent of their injuries in order to claim compensation.
What is a hit-and-run accident?
You have committed a hit-and-run (failed to stop at the scene of an accident) if you are involved in a collision with a pedestrian, vehicle, certain animals or property and you fail to remain at the scene long enough to give your details to either the injured party (or property owner), a witness or the attending police.
What details do I need to give?
You must give your name and address to the relevant party requesting your details, along with the name and address of the registered vehicle owner and any identification marks the vehicle has.
Avoid apologising as it may be construed as accepting blame, which could be used against you if the matter reaches court.
Is it a criminal offence to leave the scene of accident without giving your details?
You are legally obliged to stop at the scene of an accident in which you are involved, so you can give your details to the relevant party. Failure to do so is a criminal offence under Section 170 of the Road Traffic Act 1988.
If you have not exchanged contact details as required by law or produced an insurance certificate at the scene, you are also obligated to report any accident that results in the injury of a person to the police. This should be done as soon as is feasibly possible and, in any event, within 24 hours of the incident.
What are the penalties if I commit a hit-and-run?
Failing to stop at the scene of an accident is a serious offence, one that is reflected in the sentencing available if convicted of such a charge. If it is alleged that you have committed such an offence you could face:
- A 6 month prison sentence
- 5 to 10 points on your licence
- Disqualification from driving
- An unlimited fine
In more serious cases, where a fatality is involved, you could find yourself charged with causing death by dangerous driving, which carries a maximum custodial sentence of 14 years and a minimum 2 year disqualification.
What should I do if it is alleged I have failed to stop at the scene of an accident?
Whether you receive a court summons or an order to attend a police interview, you should always seek legal advice from a professional solicitor with the necessary expertise in handling motoring offence charges.
Remember that it is not only your licence, but also your livelihood and, depending upon the circumstances, your liberty that's at stake.
"If you are involved in an accident and someone is injured, a vehicle other than your own or another item of property is damaged; you must stop and be ready to give your details to whoever has reasonable cause to request them. This is the best way to minimise the prospect of any subsequent criminal action being taken against you."
"But mistakes are made, people panic and, in some cases, don't even realise they've had an accident until later, if at all. When this happens, you might receive correspondence from the police asking you to identify who was driving your vehicle at the time an alleged incident occurred. It is important that you reply honestly to this request, as failure to do so could result in a charge of perverting the course of justice, which itself carries the possibility of a custodial sentence. In some cases you may even find that you are asked to attend a 'voluntary' police interview under caution. If you find yourself in this position you should consider taking a solicitor with you, whose role it will be to look after your interests during that interview."
"If you do find yourself accused of leaving the scene of an accident, secure legal representation at the earliest opportunity. This will ensure a better defence if the case reaches court."