Are hit-and-run accidents increasing? In recent months, local news outlets have reported numerous hit-and-run fatalities. In the most recent accident just a few days ago, an Athens man struck a pedestrian and fled the scene leaving him fatally injured. Initially, law enforcement arrested the fleeing driver for a felony charge related to leaving the scene of an accident. When the pedestrian victim later died at the hospital, those charges were upgraded to manslaughter.
This recent hit-and-run death is not an isolated event. Our office is currently helping a number of people hurt in hit-and-run accidents. In one, a driver traveled down the wrong side of Highway 72 in Scottsboro, struck a truck, fled the scene, and was later found by local police officers hiding in a nearby neighborhood. In another, a Huntsville driver fled the scene to avoid outstanding warrants, leaving our client severely injured. In a third case, the negligent driver fled but was caught when a witness followed and called police. These are just a few of our recent cases. Later in this blog, I’ll discuss how you can protect yourself financially from the risk of a hit-and-run driver.
What Are The Facts About Hit And Run Accidents?
In 2020 and 2021, a worldwide pandemic changed so many things. During the pandemic, fewer cars traveled our roads and highways. In Huntsville, that change was really dramatic since many workers around Redstone Arsenal began working from home. Although we saw fewer cars on the roadway for a couple years, local law enforcement agencies reported increases in serious cases of impaired driving, road rage and pedestrian-related accidents. I wrote a couple prior posts during the pandemic about the increase in impaired driving among Alabama communities. Now that traffic patterns have returned to normal pre-pandemic levels in many places, I think we can look back at pre-pandemic trends for guidance.
In 2018, AAA issued an article titled Hit-and-Run Deaths Hit Record High. The AAA article highlighted some interesting (and troubling) facts. These included the following:
- Hit-and-run deaths in the U.S. have increased an average of 7.2 percent each year since 2009. Overall, hit-and-run deaths increased 60% from 2009 to 2016 when the data was collected.
An increase of 60% in the fatality rate over a 7 year period is tremendous. According to a separate article in the Chicago Tribune, the number of hit-and-run fatalities in 2016 was the highest recorded by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) since it began compiling data many years earlier.
The statistics are troubling. They paint a picture of increasing crashes involving drivers that flee the scene. Let’s look beyond the statistics and ask some important safety questions. Why are hit-and-run accidents increasing? What can you do to protect yourself financially from the cost of injuries due to a fleeing driver?
Why Are Hit And Run Accidents Increasing In Alabama?
First, let’s look at reasons why these accidents are increasing. Here are 4 reasons:
1. Drivers With NO Insurance
Alabama has a huge problem with uninsured drivers on our roads and highways. Recent research from the Insurance Information Institute places Alabama at #7 on the Top 10 list of states with the most uninsured drivers. The 6 states with worse records include our neighbors in Tennessee, Florida and Mississippi. That translates to a real problem with uninsured drivers on our roads!
Yes, Alabama law requires drivers to carry minimum limits liability coverage. But, so many drivers still operate illegally without insurance placing everyone in danger. When an accident does happen, drivers sometimes flee rather than face legal issues.
2. Drivers With Criminal Histories
That driver with an outstanding warrant may not stop and risk arrest. It’s a common problem. During difficult times (such as a pandemic or economic downturn), I see this issue increasing.
3. Drivers With Impairments From Drugs Or Alcohol
I mentioned previously the issues with increased drinking and driving during the pandemic. But, drugs and alcohol have long been huge problems on our roadways. Alabama does have a higher rate of impaired driving fatalities than the national average. I’ve written previously about some of our issues with drinking and driving.
Impaired drivers flee accident scenes for several reasons. They may be worried about criminal prosecution for their impairment. In some cases, they may be too impaired to realize they struck another vehicle or person. In all these cases, impairment brings bad judgment and bad decision-making.
4. Drivers With Increased Pedestrian And Cyclist Activity Around Their Vehicles
Traffic research indicates the majority of hit-and-run deaths involve a car versus either a pedestrian or cyclist. Fatal pedestrian accidents have spiked in number in recent years.
I’ve written previously about efforts in cities such as Huntsville and Tuscaloosa to become more pedestrian and cyclist friendly. Both cities have done a great job to incorporate cars, pedestrians and bicycles into their safety and growth planning. That’s important. Huntsville even discusses on its website its urban planning for a pedestrian and cyclist friendly city. It’s clear that in our major cities and town, all three are using the same streets and areas.
The increasing number of pedestrians and cyclists creates potential accident dangers. Several years ago, I represented another Huntsville attorney who was struck by an SUV while riding his bike in town. The SUV hit his bicycle, knocked him from the roadway and stopped. But, when the cyclist started to move, the driver sped away. My friend suffered two ruptured discs in his neck. We were never able to identify the hit-and-run driver but we were able to recover damages from his uninsured coverage. That brings me to my last point — How can you protect yourself financially from potential losses caused by a hit and run driver?
How Can You Protect Yourself Financially From A Hit-And-Run Driver?
If you are a pedestrian or cyclist, you should be extra cautious. Car drivers often do not see or anticipate pedestrians or cyclists until it is too late. The best protection for people walking or cycling is to be aware and defensive in their movements. I’ve discussed cyclist and pedestrian safety several times in the past.
Today, I want to talk about the primary steps you can take to protect yourself financially from damages suffered due to a hit-and-run driver. The main thing you can do to protect yourself and your family is to purchase sufficient insurance coverage. This especially means uninsured coverage. Uninsured / underinsured motorist (UIM) coverage is valuable and cost effective coverage that provides compensation when the at-fault driver has no coverage or too little coverage.
I mentioned earlier that Alabama is currently #7 on the Top 10 list for most uninsured drivers. The recent statistics I’ve seen place the percentage of uninsured drivers in our state between 19-20%. That’s huge – Almost 1 out of every 5 drivers around you has NO liability insurance. It’s a topic for another day but many of the other insured drivers around you only carry the minimum required limits of $25,000. That’s too little for any significant injury. So, you need to purchase plenty of uninsured / underinsured motorist coverage to protect your family.
In many hit-and-run cases, the at-fault driver is eventually found. I mentioned one case of ours at the beginning of this post where a witness followed the fleeing driver. In many of our past cases, a key witness has helped identify the fleeing driver. In addition to witnesses, many scenes are filmed by nearby cameras. In recent years, many accidents in our law firm cases were caught on area cameras. Just last year, we were able to win a really difficult wrongful death case after discovering video of the accident captured by a nearby camera. In many cases, the fleeing driver can be identified for a potential claim.
In Alabama and across the United States, hit-and-run accidents have increased. Many factors have contributed to the increasing numbers. You should take important steps to protect your family financially from the costs of a potential injury from an unknown driver.
We are Huntsville personal injury and accident lawyers who help families across Alabama. We have pursued injury claims to court in counties across our state. Outside the courtroom, we continue to advocate for safer roadways, safer workplaces and safer products.