Hit-and-run accidents leave victims to cover costs

Stephanie Christensen

You drive responsibly and carry auto insurance, so you assume you're covered in case of an accident. But if you're the victim of a hit-and-run, lacking critical insurance coverage could leave you paying out of pocket for an accident you didn't even cause.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, one in eight accidents nationwide between 2003 and 2006 was a hit-and-run. Of those accidents, 80 percent caused only vehicle damage. While you have no way of stopping a hit-and-run accident, you can take steps to protect yourself and your car.

What kind of coverage will protect me?

Auto insurance companies generally consider a hit-and-run accident to be in the same vein as an accident with an uninsured motorist. Uninsured motorist coverage is intended to protect you from irresponsible drivers and generally will pay for injuries caused by a hit-and-run as well as damage to your car.

Do not assume that your traditional auto insurance policy protects you against uninsured motorists. While uninsured motorist coverage is required by some states, it is not mandated by all. As a result, the Insurance Information Institute recommends that drivers confirm whether their existing policy includes this coverage, and add it if it does not. Depending on your insurance provider, you may be required to purchase separate uninsured motorist coverage for bodily injury and property damage, according to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners.

In addition, consider rental reimbursement coverage. It typically will raise the premium of an existing policy by only a few dollars each month, according to the Insurance Information Institute, and covers costs associated with car rental if a vehicle is damaged in a hit-and-run.

How are hit-and-run drivers punished?
Most states mandate that any driver who collides with a vehicle, including a parked car, make an effort to report the incident, leave a note with contact information or both. The laws around failure to do so vary by state, but are serious.
In Ohio, for example, the driver who causes the collision is required to report the offense within 24 hours of the accident, according to the state's hit-and-run laws. Unreported cases involving only property damage carry a first-degree misdemeanor charge to those caught and convicted. Accidents involving injury or death are felonies punishable by mandatory prison sentences. Additionally, hit-and-run violations result in license suspension for a minimum of six months.
What should I do if I'm a hit-and-run victim?

If you are a victim of a hit-and-run, report it to the police immediately and obtain the contact information of any witnesses. Immediately record any details about the driver that you can recall, such as car make and model, license plate number and any other identifying feature of the car or driver.

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