Fleeing Scene of Accident
While it is not a crime to be involved in a traffic accident, it is illegal in both Virginia and D.C. – as in most jurisdictions – to leave the scene of an accident without either reporting the incident or waiting for police to arrive. This offense is commonly referred to as “hit-and-run” or, in D.C., as “leaving after colliding.”
Any motorist who either injures another person or causes “substantial” property damage in D.C. is required to remain on the scene and provide assistance. In the case of an accident involving injury, the driver is also required to immediately report the incident to police and to provide his name and address to either the injured person or bystander requesting such information on behalf of the injured person. In the case of an accident involving damage to property, the motorist is required to provide the same information to the owner or operator of the property. If such owner or operator is not present, the driver should immediately report the information to the police.
The penalty for a first-time offender of this offense in which there is “substantial” property damage is imprisonment for up to 30 days and/or $100 fine. Second or subsequent offenses are punishable by imprisonment for up to 90 days and/or $300 fine. The penalty for fleeing the scene of an accident involving injury to another person is imprisonment for up to 6 months and/or $500 fine. Second or subsequent offenses involving injury are punishable by up to a year in prison and/or $1,000 fine. D.C. Code § 50-2201.05.
Motorists involved in a traffic accident in Virginia are generally required to wait at the scene until police arrive to investigate. There are certain exceptions to this requirement. If, for example, the motorist is injured and requires medical treatment him/herself, the “driver shall, as soon as reasonably possible, make the required report to the State Police or local law-enforcement agency and make a reasonable effort to locate the person struck, or the driver or some other occupant of the vehicle collided with, or the custodian of the damaged property, and report to such person or persons his name, address, driver’s license number, and vehicle registration number.”
If the vehicle or property that is damaged is unattended, the driver should make a “reasonable effort” to identify and notify the owner/custodian. Failing this, the driver should leave a note or other form of communication that includes driver identification and contact information and report the accident in writing to State or local police within 24 hours. The written report should include the date, time, and place of the accident and the driver’s description of the property damage.
If the driver fails to stop and/or report the accident, any person who is 16 years of age or older who is with the driver at the time of the accident also has a duty to report.
The penalty for this offense depends on the severity of the accident and the degree of damage to either person or property. If the property is unattended and the damage is estimated at less than $250, the person is guilty of a Class 4 misdemeanor punishable by a fine of not more than $250. The person will also be assessed three demerit points on his/her license by the Department of Motor Vehicles.
If the accident results in damage only to property estimated at $250 to $1,000, the person will be subject to punishment as a Class 1 misdemeanor. Class 1 misdemeanors are punishable by up to 12 months in jail and/or a fine of $2,500. The offense can also result in a suspension by the court of the driver’s operating privileges for up to 6 months.
If the accident results in injury or death to any person or if the property damage as a result of the accident is greater than $1,000, the driver can be found guilty of a Class 6 felony. Class 6 felonies are punishable by imprisonment of 1 to 5 years, confinement in jail for up to 12 months and/or a fine of up to $2,500. Virginia Code §§ 46.2-894 through 46.2-902.1.