Virginia law is clear that motorists involved in a traffic accident must stay at the scene and render assistance. Unfortunately, some people drive away, perhaps because they are badly shaken or because they are afraid of the consequences of being involved in a wreck.
Although hitting the gas might be an understandable instinct, leaving the scene of an accident is a crime. In Virginia, the penalties you face will depend on whether anybody was hurt and whether you were impaired. Speak with our Richmond, Virginia traffic violation attorney to learn more.
Your Duties after Being Involved in an Accident
Your duties as the driver will depend on whether the vehicle you hit was attended or unattended.
When a vehicle is attended, the relevant statute is Virginia Code § 46.2-894, which states that a driver must “immediately” stop as close to the accident scene as possible so long as they do not obstruct traffic. You must also give the following to the other driver:
- Driver’s license number
- Vehicle registration number
If a person is injured, you must provide “reasonable assistance,” which can include taking the person to a doctor or hospital or calling the ambulance. You must also report the accident to the police.
When you hit an unattended vehicle, Va. Code § 46.2-896 states that you must make a reasonable effort to find the owner. Once found, you must provide the information above. When the owner cannot be found, you must leave a note in a “conspicuous” place, such as on the windshield, with the relevant information above. You also need to report the accident to the police within 24 hours.
Penalties for Leaving the Scene of the Accident
The penalties for leaving the scene are severe, which is all the more reason to carefully fulfill all duties at the scene of the accident. You face the following:
- Class 4 misdemeanor: leaving the scene of an unattended vehicle when property damage was less than $250.
- Class 1 misdemeanor: Leaving the scene of an unattended vehicle with $250 or more of property damage.
- Class 1 misdemeanor: Leaving the scene of an attended vehicle with $1,000 or less of property damage.
- Class 5 felony: Leaving the scene of an attended vehicle with more than $1,000 in property damage or injury/death to a person.
As for jail time, a Class 4 misdemeanor will not result in jail. At most, you will pay a $250 fine, provided this is your first offense. However, you could end up in jail for the following:
- Class 1 misdemeanor: Up to a year in jail and a fine up to $2,500 ( Code § 18.2-11)
- Class 5 felony: 1-10 years in prison and a fine up to $2,500 ( Code § 18.2-10). However, a judge or jury has discretion to sentence the defendant to up to one year in jail.
Your license will also be suspended—for six months, in most cases, though it could be suspended for up to a year if you were the driver in an accident causing death or injury and you refused to disclose your identity. (Va. Code § 46.2-389).
Were You Intoxicated or Driving Recklessly?
The above simply describes penalties for fleeing the scene. You might face additional charges, depending on the circumstances. For example, if you are impaired by drugs or alcohol, you could face DUI charges. Likewise, if you drove recklessly, you could also face penalties above and beyond those for fleeing the scene.
In particularly horrifying accidents, someone might also die. Consequently, you might face manslaughter charges, which absolutely can result in jail.
Contact Our Virginia Traffic Violation Attorney Immediately
With so much at stake, you need a seasoned criminal defense attorney to carefully review the evidence and pull together the best defense possible. Never try to negotiate a resolution on your own, even when no one was hurt in the accident. Instead, call Bain Sheldon today to schedule a confidential consultation. We represent clients throughout Central Virginia, including in Petersburg, Glen Allen, Mechanicsville, Henrico, Chesterfield, Hanover, Goochland, New Kent, Dinwiddie, Hopewell, Colonial Heights, Powhatan, Prince George and Ashland.