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In West Virginia, leaving the scene of an accident has serious consequences. In some cases, it can lead to a felony charge. Even in a non-fatal accident, you are likely to see an increase in your car insurance premiums if you get caught after you leave the scene. Bankrate is here to explain what to do as a victim of a hit-and-run and why it’s important to not leave the scene of an accident.
Hit-and-runs in West Virginia
A hit-and-run accident occurs when one driver leaves the scene of an accident without stopping. Often, a driver panics and flees because they want to avoid being found at fault. Some drivers flee the scene because they do not have a valid license or active insurance. However, West Virginia hit-and-run accidents are considered serious moving violations.
West Virginia hit-and-run laws
One of West Virginia’s hit-and-run laws is commonly known as Erin’s Law. Named for a college student who was killed in a hit-and-run, it says that any driver who is involved in an accident that causes injuries or death must stop their vehicle at the scene, or as close as possible, and remain there until they are allowed to leave by authorities. It also states that the driver must provide assistance if possible to any person injured and give information as requested to law enforcement. Failure to comply with this law is considered a major moving violation and can result in several consequences.
However, if no one is injured in a hit-and-run — or even if the vehicle is unattended — it is still against the law to flee the scene. You must stop and exchange information with the other driver if they are present, try to find them if they are not or leave your name, address and details of the incident in writing in a conspicuous place on the other car.
The laws for a hit-and-run first offense in West Virginia are quite serious. If you leave the scene of an accident where you could have reasonably assumed someone was injured, and then they die, you’ll face an automatic felony. Depending on the severity of the injuries involved, a hit-and-run driver could be criminally charged with a misdemeanor or felony. Lesser violations could result in a punishment of up to one year in jail and a $1,000 fine, while more severe cases could result in up to five years in jail and a $5,000 fine. The state may also revoke your driver’s license, which will later require a reinstatement fee.
How hit-and-runs impact car insurance rates in West Virginia
According to AAA’s Foundation for Traffic Safety, hit-and-run accidents are increasing nationally, with one happening somewhere in the U.S. every 43 seconds. If you commit a hit-and-run and are caught, you are likely to see a sharp increase in your policy premium. In some cases — especially if you have more than one infraction on your license — you may be considered a high-risk driver. If that is the case, your insurer may cancel your policy or you may be required to file an SR-22.
Bankrate’s research shows that being convicted of a single at-fault accident increases your premium rate by an average of 42 percent. In many cases, a hit-and-run is considered more serious than a simple at-fault conviction, meaning that the insurance ramifications of a hit-and-run conviction can be even higher.
Learn more: What to do if your car insurance is canceled
3 things to do after a hit-and-run in West Virginia
Although you can choose to not leave the scene after an accident, you cannot control whether another driver leaves the scene. However, knowing what steps to take after an accident should help you prepare and protect your finances. Here are three things to do after a hit-and-run in West Virginia:
Check for injuries
The first thing you should do after any accident is to check for injuries to yourself and your passengers. If there are other cars or pedestrians involved, also evaluate their condition. If anyone is injured, even if the injury seems minor, you should immediately call 911 for emergency medical aid.
Report the accident
Even if everyone seems fine, it still may be a good idea to call 911. When the officers arrive, they will typically take statements, evaluate the scene and create a police report. The law requires you to submit any information you are asked for, such as your insurance details. At that time, the police will also open an investigation to try to locate the hit-and-run driver.
While waiting for emergency medical services and the police to arrive, it might be a good idea to collect information about the environment, property and people around you. Consider getting witnesses’ contact information, taking photos of your vehicle’s damage and checking out the surrounding area for security cameras. If you saw the license plate or any other identifying factors of the vehicle that hit you and fled the scene, be sure to write that information down to provide to the authorities.
Will insurance cover a hit-and-run?
Whether you are covered after a hit-and-run depends on your insurance policy and whether you were the cause or the victim of the accident. If you are unsure which types of coverage or how much you need to fully protect yourself, experts recommend speaking with your insurance agent.
- Liability coverage: Liability insurance is required by law. Property damage liability is designed to help pay for damage to other drivers’ vehicles and/or property after an at-fault accident, while bodily injury liability is meant to help pay for the other party’s injuries.
- Collision coverage: Collision insurance is an optional coverage type that’s meant to help pay for damage your vehicle sustains after an accident you cause, whether incurred from colliding with another vehicle or a stationary object. You will likely need to pay a deductible before it kicks in.
- Uninsured motorist coverage: Uninsured motorist insurance is another coverage type that can help pay for expenses if you are involved in an accident and the at-fault driver doesn’t have insurance to cover your or your passengers’ damages.
Frequently asked questions
Car insurance rates vary based on each individual’s age, location, driving record, insurance history and other related factors. However, the average premium for full coverage in West Virginia is around $1,858 a year, or $155 a month. This rate is 26 percent lower than the national average of $2,525 per year.
West Virginia car insurance laws mandate that all drivers must carry car insurance. Liability coverage is required in the amount of $25,000 per person and $50,000 per accident for bodily injury and $25,000 per accident for property damage. Uninsured motorist coverage is also required. However, drivers may choose to purchase higher limits than the minimum amount required, and most insurance experts recommend doing so to better protect yourself financially.
If you are convicted of a hit-and-run in West Virginia, it will likely remain on your driving record for five years. Your insurer, however, may determine that it will impact your premium rate for three years or more. If you maintain a clean driving record following the hit-and-run, your rate should eventually decrease.