More than one hit-and-run crash occurs every minute on U.S. roads, according to new research from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. These crashes resulted in 2,049 deaths in 2016 - the highest number on record and a 60 percent increase since 2009. With the number of hit-and-run crashes on the rise, AAA is calling for drivers to be alert on the road in order to avoid a deadly crash and always remain on the scene if a crash occurs.
AAA researchers examined common characteristics of hit-and-run crashes and found that:
• An average of 682,000 hit-and-run crashes occurred each year since 2006.
• Nearly 65 percent of people killed in hit-and-run crashes were pedestrians or bicyclists.
• Hit-and-run deaths in the U.S. have increased an average of 7.2 percent each year since 2009.
• Per capita, New Mexico, Louisiana and Florida have the highest rate of fatal hit-and-run crashes while New Hampshire, Maine and Minnesota have the lowest rates.
“Hit-and-run crashes in the United States are trending in the wrong direction,” said Dr. David Yang, executive director of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. “Our analysis shows that hit-and-run crashes are a growing traffic safety challenge and the AAA Foundation would like to work with all stakeholders to help curtail this problem.”
Hit-and-run crashes are trending upward in Hawaii as well. There were 12 hit-and-run fatalities in the Aloha State in 2016, up from four in 2014. Most recently, two men died in a hit-and-run crash in February near Makua Beach where a woman, 21, is suspected of being the driver and who may have been under the influence, police say.
Also two years ago, a 19-year-old man was killed in a hit-and-run crash near his Nanakuli home. This fatality has led to recent bills in the state House and Senate that seek to enhance penalties for drivers who leave a crash scene.
The AAA Foundation report found that most victims of fatal hit-and-run crashes are pedestrians or bicyclists. Over the past 10 years, nearly 20 percent of all pedestrian deaths were caused by hit-and-run crashes, meanwhile just one percent of all driver fatalities in that same time period. To decrease the chances of being involved in a crash with a pedestrian or bicyclist, drivers should:
• Be aware: Pedestrians may act unpredictably and can walk into the path of travel at any point.
• Be cautious: Look out for small children and be alert to areas where there are likely to be more pedestrians. These include school zones, playgrounds, bus stops and intersections.
• Be patient: When trying to pass a pedestrian or cyclist, give plenty of space and keep them in your line of sight.
• Be vigilant: Drivers should always yield to pedestrians, even if they walk into the road from an area other than a crosswalk.
“It is every driver’s legal and moral responsibility to take necessary precautions to avoid hitting a pedestrian, bicyclist or another vehicle,” said Jennifer Ryan, director of state relations for 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.”
Currently, every state has laws that make it illegal for a driver involved in a crash to flee the scene. State penalties vary depending on the type of crash (i.e. property damage, injury, serious injury or a fatality). If found guilty, drivers can face large fines, lose their license or spend time in prison. AAA encourages drivers to educate themselves about specific hit-and-run laws in their state and remain alert on the road to prevent crashes from occurring.
If a driver is involved in a crash, they should never leave the scene and follow the steps below:
1. Assist the injured- Check for injured people and call 911.
2. Be visible- Make sure that the scene is visible to approaching drivers. If possible, move vehicles out of the path of traffic, and use hazard flashers, flares, and reflective triangles. Find a safe place to remain until emergency services arrive, if needed.
3. Communicate- Call the police and file a report. If the police do not come to the scene, you can file a report by visiting a local police department or your automobile insurance agency.
“By working together, we can bring awareness and identify potential solutions to reduce hit-and-run fatalities,” continued Dr. Yang. “We can’t forget that cars can be deadly when they come into contact with pedestrians, cyclists or other cars. It is incumbent on each and every one of us to stay alert, be aware of our surroundings and always stay on the scene if involved in a crash.”