New Law Stiffens Penalties for Those Who Leave the Scene of an Accident
A new Colorado law that went into effect January 1 gets tougher on hit-and-run motorists who leave the scene of an accident without waiting for law enforcement to arrive or exchanging information with other involved motorists. According to the law:
- Anyone who leaves the scene of an accident that results in serious injury or death will automatically have his or her license suspended. Getting the license back will require paying a $95 fee plus $6 for a replacement license.
- A law enforcement officer has the authority to immediately seize the driver’s license of anyone who violates the new law.
- The hit-and-run driver has seven days before the license suspension goes into effect to request a hearing.
Leaving the scene of an accident that involves serious injuries is a Class 4 felony in Colorado, and leaving the scene of a crash causing death is a Class 3 felony. Leaving the scene of an accident that causes injury is a Class 1 misdemeanor traffic offense.
Hit-and-run accidents continue to be a major problem in Colorado. According to the Denver Post, the city has had 1,251 hit-and-runs so far in 2018 (down from the same time period in 2017), an average of 521 per month or 17.1 per day. In 2014, Colorado Public Radio reported that the state ranked 10th in the nation in the number of hit-and-run fatalities in 2012. Between 2011 and 2013, 28 percent of all crashes taking place in Denver involved a driver leaving the scene, approximately 18 percent higher than the national average.
One such crash involved 21-year-old parking valet Jose Medina, who was killed by a hit-and-driver in Denver in 2011. A taxi driver who witnessed the accident followed the car, got its license plate number, and helped police locate the hit-and-run driver. As a result of this incident, the Medina Alert Program was introduced in Denver in 2012 and was signed into law on March 25, 2014 by Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper. The first of its kind in the U.S., the law went into effect statewide on December 30, 2014.
Although the Medina Alert Program is having an effect on the ability of police to apprehend hit-and-run drivers in Colorado, the frequency of such accidents actually went up between 2013 and 2014, and by the end of 2014, 22 fatalities had resulted from hit-and-run accidents in Colorado.
Between January 1, 2014, and December 31, 2016, 271 motorists were convicted of leaving the scene of an accident with injuries or death in Colorado; of those, 208 were men, according to the Colorado Springs Gazette. Legislative analysts reported to lawmakers that they anticipate at least 300 people per year will have their licenses suspended because of the new law.
Why Are Hit-and-Run Accidents Such a Problem in Colorado?
There are many theories for why more and more Colorado motorists are leaving the scene of an accident, and distracted driving definitely plays a role. But whether drivers are impaired, distracted, or simply panic, leaving the scene of an accident remains a relatively common practice in the state.