What to do after a hit and run in California

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A car accident is never ideal, but the situation becomes much more complex — and potentially expensive — when the other driver or drivers involved leave the scene before exchanging information.

It’s worth knowing how to handle a hit and run in California because these types of accidents are increasing. The most recent California Office of Traffic Safety (OTS) annual report indicates that 6.8% more hit and run injury crashes occurred in 2019 than the previous year. It’s important to know what to do to protect yourself before becoming involved in a hit and run.

Hit and runs in California

In 2016, 2017, and 2018, the OTS reports that more than 20,000 hit and runs occurred in California, resulting in more than 26,000 injuries each year. Even more disturbing, more than 300 people died in hit and run accidents each year.

A hit and run isn’t just a breach of the social contract, either. California Traffic Code specifically dictates that after an accident, all drivers need to stop their vehicles (after moving them out of the traffic flow), then offer “reasonable assistance” to any injured person and exchange information. Specifically, drivers involved in an accident in California need to provide:

  • Their name
  • Their current address
  • Their vehicle’s registration number
  • The name and address of anyone in their vehicle who was injured in the accident

Ultimately, it’s a good idea for anyone who gets in an accident in California to stay at the scene and exchange information or risk being charged with a hit and run.

California hit and run laws

When it comes to insurance, California hit and run laws differ from other states. Specifically, drivers can’t use uninsured motorist insurance to pay for damage to their vehicle if they can’t identify the other driver. There are, however, stiff legal penalties for the other driver if they’re found. Those penalties depend on the amount of damage they caused. Here’s a quick overview of California hit and run laws:

  • Property damage after a hit and run in California: If the driver who left the scene damaged property but no one sustained injuries, they face up to six months of imprisonment in county jail and/or a fine of up to $1,000.
  • Injuries after a hit and run in California: In this case, if caught, the driver who left the scene faces up to one year in state prison or county jail and/or a fine of between $1,000 and $10,000.
  • Deaths or permanent injuries after a hit and run in California: If caught, the hit and run driver faces two to four years in state prison or a fine of up to $10,000.

A hit and run can be charged as a misdemeanor or felony in California; generally, property damage results in a misdemeanor and fatalities almost always result in a felony charge.

Four things to do after a hit and run in California

Drivers who are victims of a hit and run can take certain steps to protect themselves after the accident, including:

  • Make sure everyone is safe. Move your vehicle out of the flow of traffic and check on yourself and any passengers. Your priority should be to call for medical attention if anyone needs it.
  • Call the police and have them come to the scene to file a report. In a hit and run, involving law enforcement provides the best chance to find the other driver and evidence of what happened. If the driver who left the scene is found, they’ll need to pay for the damages to your car and any medical bills.
  • Gather evidence. While everything’s fresh, take notes on everything you can remember about the other driver and vehicle. See if any eyewitnesses can contribute and ask them to stay and talk to the police. If they can’t or won’t stay at the scene, get their contact information. Take pictures of any damage and look around for any pieces of the other driver’s car that may help identify them. It’s best not to touch anything and let the police collect any evidence at the scene.
  • Call your insurance provider. They’ll let you know what information is needed to file a claim.

Will insurance cover a hit and run?

There is good news and bad news regarding insurance and hit and run accidents in California. The good news is that collision coverage can pay to repair your vehicle. The bad news is that, without the other driver, it will be your responsibility to pay the deductible. Uninsured motorist coverage can help with medical bills, but in California, it won’t pay for car repairs unless the driver who left the scene can be identified.

It’s also important to note that both of these coverage types are optional and are not likely to be included in a standard auto insurance policy. It can be tempting to skimp on coverage since auto insurance in California is already more expensive than in many other states. Still, the minimum level of state-required liability insurance is unlikely to cover all the costs associated with an accident. When shopping for an auto policy, it’s a good idea to research the cheapest and best car insurance companies, then speak with a licensed insurance professional before purchasing.

Frequently asked questions

How common is a hit and run in California?

While hit and runs only accounted for 7.5% of all injury and fatality crashes in California in 2017, they do happen. It’s a good idea to be prepared and have a plan if you are involved in an accident, and the other driver flees the scene.

What is the best car insurance company?

There is no one best car insurance company for everyone. It’s a good idea to shop around and compare rates from providers available in your area before purchasing a policy.

Will my insurance cover a hit and run in California?

If you can’t track down the other driver, you’ll need to use collision coverage and pay your deductible to repair your vehicle. In California, uninsured motorist coverage can only be used for medical bills.

Written by
Kacie Goff
Personal Finance Contributor
Kacie Goff is a personal finance and insurance writer with over seven years of experience covering personal and commercial coverage options. She writes for Bankrate, The Simple Dollar, NextAdvisor, Varo Money, Coverage, Best Credit Cards and more. She's covered a broad range of policy types — including less-talked-about coverages like wrap insurance and E&O — and she specializes in auto, homeowners and life insurance.