A recent spate of hit-and-run crashes around the city, in which pedestrians in all five boroughs have been killed has focused the spotlight on traffic laws that protect drunk drivers when they flee the scene. Be aware that when you’re a pedestrian you’re in danger from drunk drivers, even if you’re on the sidewalk.
The way laws are currently written, leaving the scene before police arrive could actually prevent drunk drivers from being charged with serious criminal charges, if death or injury occurs.
Motorist who fail to remain on the scene of an incident in which they’ve hit and seriously injured someone face a class “E” felony charge and a sentence of up to 15 months to four years behind bars if convicted. If death occurs the charge increases to a Class “D” felony, with a potential maximum sentence upon conviction of 28 months to seven years in prison.
If the driver is found to be drunk when the crash occurred then Class C or Class B felonies would be imposed. Class C felonies carry a maximum of 15 years in prison and the top sentence for a Class B felony is a maximum of 25 years in prison.
The disparity in sentences creates an incentive to leave the scene because it’s hard for prosecutors to prove drunk-driving if the driver waits hours or days to report the incident when the alcohol is no longer in his/her system. It then becomes impossible to determine the alcohol content of the person at the time of the crash. Furthermore, testing a driver for alcohol after the fact wouldn’t necessarily prove whether the hit-and-run suspect had imbibed before or after the incident.
And did you know there are circumstances where leaving the scene is legal? A driver who hits a pedestrian crossing a crowded highway might reasonably fear he could put his own life in jeopardy by stopping in traffic. Or, a driver who struck somebody on a street might fear remaining in the area if a crowd of seemingly hostile people approached his or her vehicle. In such instances, the driver can leave, but must immediately report the incident to law enforcement once they are out of danger.
Drunk-driving is still fairly common so be on guard and make sure you carry insurance for uninsured motorists who leave the scene.