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Hit-and-Run Accidents in California: Statistics, Studies & Victims' Rights


California is a leader in many ways, whether that’s the Silicon Valley’s tech industry, the Southland’s style and entertainment industry, or the state’s tendency to enact and pass more progressive laws. What many don’t realize, however, is that the Golden State is also one of nation’s leader when it comes to hit-and-run crashes.

According to a report from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, about one hit-and-run crash happens in the U.S. every minute. While that may include minor fender benders or collisions involving parked cars or property, it also certainly includes car accidents serious enough to cause significant injuries or death. What’s more, those serious hit-and-runs are becoming a bigger problem, with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reporting 2,049 deaths caused by hit-and-run crashes in 2016 – the most ever recorded in the country’s history.

Here are some statistics about how bad the problem is, both nationwide and in California:

  • In addition to having the most hit-and-run accidents in history on a national level, 2016 (the latest available year for data) was also the most fatal year on record for hit-and-run crashes in the state of California. AAA says the 337 deaths caused by hit-and-runs in CA that year was 60% more than the number of fatalities reported 10 years ago.
  • While the numbers put California atop the nation when it comes to fatal hit-and-runs, the state ranks 7th nationally on a per capital basis.
  • AAA’s report noted that nationwide, hit-and run deaths have increased by an average of more than 7% since 2009, and that almost two-thirds of all victims killed in these collisions are pedestrians or bicyclists.
  • An article from the Los Angeles Times notes a similarly alarming trend in Los Angeles, which has seen spike in accidents involving pedestrian and cyclist deaths, many of which involved hit-and-runs. The 134 pedestrians killed in 2017 in only L.A. was the most recorded in over 15 years, and nearly double the number of pedestrian deaths in 2015.

California’s problem with hit-and-run accidents is a major concern, particularly for the pedestrians, cyclists, motorcycle riders, and motorists for whom traveling city streets and freeways is a part of daily life. As one of the largest examples of suburban sprawl, Los Angeles and the surrounding communities of Southern California feel the real effects of the problem first hand, and at troubling rates.

Safety Studies Suggest Ways to Reverse Trends

Crash data is useful not only to identifying problems, but also to helping experts and advocates find solutions to reverse trends. In Los Angeles in particular, experts have focused on a few of the most dangerous contributing factors for pedestrian, cyclist, and hit-and-run crashes, as well as critical determining factors behind whether victims make it out alive. These include:

  • Speed – Speed is perhaps the largest determinant of survival rates, especially among pedestrians. In crashes where pedestrians are struck by vehicles traveling at 20 mph, for example, there’s a 90% they will survive. That decreases to just a 20% survival rate when they are struck by vehicle going 40 mph, according to NHTSA.
  • Distraction – Driver distraction is nothing new in this day and age, but it continues to kill Americans every day. Distracted drivers are not only more likely to crash, but also less likely to decrease their speed or make split-second crash-avoidance maneuvers that could mean the difference between life and death.
  • Driver Impairment – Drunk driving, like driver distraction, has always been a scourge to public safety. Impaired drivers who cause accidents with other vehicles or strike pedestrians and bicyclists are also more likely to flee the scene, according to AAA data.
  • Medical assistance – Fleeing the scene of an accident is a crime for a reason; it puts victims at increased risks for not receiving the immediate medical attention they need. That medical attention could cause a victim with otherwise treatable injuries to suffer severe complications, catastrophic impairment, or death. Improving response time from first responders is always a priority for city officials and public health, but they need initial calls to come in as fast as possible in order to improve survival rates as well.
  • Enforcement and infrastructure – Officials, lawmakers, and law enforcement are quick to note the importance of enforcement and infrastructure when it comes to deterring the behaviors which endanger others and lead to preventable accidents, injuries, and deaths. Finding ways to improve enforcement of critical safety laws, researchers say, will be critical to reducing rising rates of injuries and deaths. So too will creating safe roads with regular and preventative maintenance, better city, road, and intersection planning that can absorb rising populations, adopting changes or structural overhauls at the most dangerous locations, and apprehending those who do cause preventable wrecks as a result of wrongful acts, and drivers who flee the scene.

Your Rights After a Hit-and-Run Accident

Nobody wants to become a statistic, which is why being a defensive driver is so critical to protecting yourself, your loved ones, and those around you. Unfortunately, even the most vigilant motorists can suffer harm when others are negligent – as well as greater risks of serious injuries and death when those negligent motorists unlawfully flee the scene.

Regardless of why any motorist would flee the scene of an accident and in addition to pressing safety and survival risks, a hit-and-run crash can also complicate the fight for justice and the availability of compensation victims and families turn to when they suffer harm at the hands of others. These complications primarily involve:

  • The need to find and locate motorists who fled the scene;
  • The need for at-fault motorists (or at-fault parties) to have sufficient coverage.

In some cases, victims injured in hit-and-run accidents are lucky enough to have cases where drivers are eventually located and found to have sufficient insurance coverage. Many, however, are not. In fact, LAPD solved only 8% of cases involving reported hit-and-runs in the city in 2017. Victims injured in hit-and-runs where the other driver can’t be located may still be able to make a recovery under the uninsured / underinsured clause of their own auto insurance policy.

If you have this coverage, you should be aware that in most cases, the deadline for filing an uninsured motorist claim is contractually set at 1 year – as compared to the two-year statute of limitations on civil personal injury suits. You should also realize the importance of having uninsured motorist protection at the same levels as you have liability insurance, so that that you are buying protection for yourself equal to what you are buying for other people you might be involved in an accident with.

Even in cases when drivers are located, it should be noted that this coverage can also help, as those drivers may lack sufficient insurance to cover all the damages they caused, or be entirely uninsured. Additionally, victims hopeful that criminal cases against those drivers may help often sadly discover that criminal cases focus on criminal guilt rather than civil financial liability, and offer little in terms of meaningful compensation to victims in such situations.

Evaluate Your Coverage Before an Accident. Call Proven Lawyers After to Protect Your Rights.

Because these risks are so real to victims and families who suffer losses related to medical bills, pain and suffering, lost income, emotional injuries, and more, working with experienced hit and run accident attorneys can be critical. From reviewing cases to identify potential sources of coverage – whether it be an apprehended at-fault driver’s insurance, a commercial policy in cases involving trucks and commercial vehicles, product liability claims, dram shop or property owner liability, a victim’s own insurance, or other potential sources – to fighting for full and fair recoveries, our attorneys do everything possible to help victims in these immensely difficult situations.

Unfortunately, not every victim injured in hit-and-run accident, nor every family who loses a loved one, may obtain the justice and compensation they deserve. For these reasons, we strongly encourage anyone who drives to evaluate their auto insurance policies and consider purchasing UM / UIM (uninsured / underinsured motorist) coverage. It can make the difference when it matters most.

If you would like to have your accident case reviewed by a hit and run accident attorney from our firm, we’re available to take your call, discuss whether you may have options, and explain how we may be able to assist you in fighting for the financial recovery you need. Biren Law Group serves clients across Los Angeles and Southern California, and offers free case evaluations. Contact us to request yours.