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Why Drivers Hit and Run?

 It is called hit-and-run in the media, leaving the scene in the courts, and by many law enforcement officers, hit and skip. It is a failure on the part of a driver to stop, render aid, and accept responsibility for their part in an vehicle accident. Whatever you call it, it is killing hundreds of US citizens annually. After years of declining in numbers, the offense is now growing in ever increasing numbers and regularity. It is an equal opportunity crime, both from the perspective of the victim or the offender. It affects those of every age, race, sex, and social status. It leaves behind death, permanent injury, psychological trauma, and grieving family and friends with one basic question - why would anyone hurt, kill or maim someone, and just leave?

In larger cities it happens with such regularity that some go unreported in the media. Others, so horrifically appalling in their nature, will get nationwide media attention. According to an article published in the San Francisco Chronicle (7/27/2003), an average of 3.8% of all deadly crashes in 2001, involved a hit and run driver (7.8% in California alone). Nearly one in five pedestrians (18%) killed on America's roadways is the victim of a hit-and-run crash, according to a major research report released by the U.S. Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety (April 2003).

The question of why is left to haunt the family of the victim. Whether the victim was actually at fault ,or totally innocent, the lack of a driver to identify, to put a face to, gives victim families a block to the grieving process. There will be shock, sorrow and grief, followed by anger and questions, in any fatality incident. A regretful driver, or a judicial sentence for a crime committed, will assist the family in the healing process. A driver who may not be at fault, turns a tragic accident into a crime by leaving the scene. This not only blocks the grieving process for the family, but also turns an otherwise innocent driver into a criminal, and a hunted person.

Why would someone kill another person in an accident and flee? Either the driver is hiding something or has something to protect, usually themselves. It would seem that some people, if they think they can get away with something, will try, no matter the consequences. These people see right as what benefits themselves, and wrong as someone else's problem. The realization of suddenly being responsible for the death of another human being, and a reaction, can be the ultimate test of one's true character.

I address some of the more common causes the police discover here. To break it down, I call some of the most common reasons "DUSA"(Driving in the USA)

- Driving impaired (drinking, drugs), drowsy, distracted
- Unlicensed driver or car( such as illegal immigrant), suspended or revoked(repeat offender), uninsured
S -  Self preservation (secret to keep, status to protect, scared), stolen vehicle, street racing
A -  Aggressive driving(road rage), amorality, Age (youthful immaturity)

Driving impaired is an epidemic that kills thousands every year. Thanks to traffic activist groups such as Mother Against Drunk Drivers, these numbers are falling - ever so slowly. Yet even their figures estimate 39% of all fatal crashes involve an impaired driver (2004). And while performing a wonderful service for all of us who travel America's highways, their success has actually compounded the problem of hit and run fatalities. In many states, an impaired driver who does not flee the scene of a fatality accident, now faces the possibility of a heavier sentence than their counterparts that may flee. From MADD's own web site "Unfortunately, because hit-and-run crashes are punished less severely than alcohol-related crashes, we have given drunk drivers an incentive to flee the crime to try to escape having a BAC test done." If captured shortly after the accident, it is sometimes more difficult for prosecuting attorneys to prove impairment 'at the time of the accident'. (For those who may fear we are giving away one of our legal systems dirty little secrets to the general public, we can assure you it is well known in drinking circles) Juries have grown wiser though, and the old "I was sober when I had the accident but I was so upset I ran home and got drunk" defense, is finding very little success in court. Regretfully, the repeat DUI offenders, who face manslaughter or murder charges, feel they have nothing to loose, and make up one of the largest groups of hit and run killers. See one state that corrected this at "Wisconsin gets it"

Another cause and effect of the moves to stop drunk driving is the "greying" of the line of what is and what is not drunk driving. The move to lower the legal blood alcohol limit from .10 to .08 caused a major riff, even within groups committed to fight drunk driving. The founder of MADD, Candy Lightner, lobbied Congress against the change, while the group she formed, heavily supported it. Now many social drinkers are confused about how much they can and cannot drink before they are classified a drunk driver. With this is mind, some may flee rather than risk finding out that their mental calculations were incorrect. (The subject of what is and what is not an impaired driver is a complex topic. It is not our intention here to get involved in this debate, only to show reasons why some may flee the scene of an accident) It is wise to keep in mind that every body reacts to alcohol differently, and no magic gauge applies to everyone. In many states, you can be arrested for driving impaired and not be legally drunk.

Drivers with suspended, expired or revoked licenses may flee, rather than risk explaining to a police officer why they are driving. Unlicensed driving is an ever increasing problem. This is especially true in California, where some estimate as many as 1 million unlicensed drivers occupy that states highways. Many drivers with no license are illegal immigrants, who risk deportment with any law enforcement contact. (See AAA report: Unlicensed to Kill). The Arizona Daily Star, in a 12/18/2005 article entitled 'The Hit-Kill-And-Run State: Arizona Nears Grim Title', the authors supply interesting evidence that illegal immigration is causing a very serious hit and run problem, by showing the top seven states the Pew Hispanic Center estimates hold the largest population of illegal immigrants, also happen to be the top seven states with hit and run fatalities, as shown by FARS reports.  

The next major block would be those who have licenses suspended or revoked due to prior convictions. This is a problem with a serious enforcement problem, and until the legislature and courts begin to penalize these drivers 'before' they kill someone, law enforcement will continue to consider this a minor infraction. According to the article in the San Francisco Chronicle mentioned above, in California fatal hit-and-run accidents in which the driver's license status was known, 49 percent had suspended, expired or revoked licenses or were not licensed at all. A study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, released in February 2003, found that 21 percent of all fatal crashes in California between 1993 and 1999 involved drivers who lacked valid licenses, reflecting the tendency of unlicensed drivers to run. A report (Griffin and DeLaZerda, 2000), analyzing 5 years of Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) data, found that one out of five fatal crashes involves at least one driver who is not properly licensed (unlicensed, S/R, expired, canceled or denied, unknown). Large Report  And finally, in its report Unlicensed to Kill, AAA found that an unlicensed driver is 66.36 times more likely to be a hit and run driver, than is a licensed driver.

As our society grows more inclined to accepting self preservation taking precedence over personal responsibility, we are not as horrified as we should be at the commonality of hit and run accidents. We have become desensitized and this site, will hopefully inform you, shock and anger you, and motivate you to seek out solutions in your community.

Okinawa, Japan
Police surveys drivers' excuses in hit and run cases
Posted: May 2, 2003

Okinawan drivers continue to get a bad rap for their propensity for driving while drunk, and now also for hit and run accidents. A study covering all hit and run cases within the prefecture during 2002 shows that 44 percent of drivers who had driven away without stopping after an accident said that they did so because they were drunk at the time.

Another 22 percent said that they simply were too scared to stop, and 14.3 percent said they did not stop because they did not have a driving license. Another eight percent claimed they thought no one had seen the accident, and that they could get away with it.

Four percent of those surveyed were optimistic enough that they through they could negotiate a settlement with victims later, without police getting involved.

Okinawa has for years been notorious for the largest percentage of drunk drivers on the roads in the country. According to prefectural police, nothing seems to scare drunks away from behind the wheel. Despite repeated campaigns and ever harsher punishments, nothing seems to work.

"And now we see this increase in hit and run cases too," an exhausted prefectural traffic police officer said. Police statistics show that while there were 97 hit and run cases in 2001, the number jumped to 156 in 2002.

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(information here is limited and "edited" to insure no unintentional hindrance to law enforcement
is made or to "potentially" be helpful to a hit and run driver)

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