Leaving the scene of an accident in Texas
Any accident can be a frightening occurrence. There can be a lot of confusion that occurs in the immediate aftermath of a car crash. Panic and the urge to flee to safety is a natural response. In addition, for drivers who injure someone, do not have car insurance, are driving on a suspended license, or driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, the temptation to leave can be great.
But a hit-and-run, known under Texas law as Failure to Give Information or Render Aid, is a crime. Texas law requires all drivers involved in an accident to stop their car if there is death, personal injury or property damage (no matter how minor). Depending on the circumstances of the crash, such a charge can be either a misdemeanor or a felony.
In 2013, Texas increased the penalties for leaving the scene of an accident if there is a fatality involved. It is now equal to intoxicated manslaughter in terms of applicable penalties. The law created a disincentive to leave the scene of an accident, even if the driver is drunk. Senator Kirk Watson, the bill’s author, said the law accomplishes two goals:
- Drunk drivers now face the same penalty whether they leave the scene or not, and
- Injured drivers and passengers may be saved because of the stringent penalties associated with a hit-and-run
Exceptions to the law
While there are numerous reasons why a driver might be tempted to leave the scene, even if he or she was not engaged in any illegal behavior, only a few exemptions to the requirement to stop exist.
In order to commit the crime of Failure to Stop and Give Information, the operator of the vehicle must know that he or she was involved in an accident. While on its face, this can seem easy to know, that is not always the case. A driver who hits a bump in the night might not know that he or she hit someone or something, thinking instead there was a pothole. There also could be no discernible damage to property – a driver does not need to stop or notify police if they spin off the road but hit nothing, for example. It is possible to hit something in the frenzy of a spin-out and not know there is property damage.
In addition, the state must prove that the person was driving the vehicle at the time of the accident. Passengers and witnesses do not have to remain at the scene of an accident.
Finally, a person can leave the scene of an accident if his or her life is in danger. For example, if there is a large fire or toxic spill a driver may leave the scene to preserve his or her own life.
A criminal defense attorney can help
A hit-and-run charge can bring severe and life-altering punishments. At worst, it can be a felony charge with the person accused facing up to 30 years in jail. Even a misdemeanor conviction can lead to significant fines, loss of driving privileges and other consequences.
Texas drivers accused of Failure to Give Information or Render Aid have a lot at stake. If you are accused of a hit-and-run, you should immediately speak to experienced criminal defense attorney Anthony B. Cantrell. Anthony Cantrell can help you understand the charges against you, the potential consequences, and advise you of your rights.