California Vehicle Code Section 20002 tells you what to do if you have an accident. If you don’t follow the instructions clearly, then you have committed a hit and run. In the 20 years that I have been practicing there are certain cases that come to me in a steady flow. Hit and run cases come to us on a regular basis, and I have personally worked on hit and run cases where clients didn’t fully understand what constitutes a hit and run, like the War Story at the end of this article.
A hit and run is simply an accident where you did not stop to exchange information. It is not illegal to have an accident, but it is illegal if you have and accident and don’t follow the statute.
Confusion About Hit and Runs
Most people who call me have already been involved in a hit and run incident. The stories are pretty common, and clients often say:
- “I was on the freeway and someone hit me, but they didn’t stop, so I didn’t stop. I left the scene but went to the police the next day.”
- “The accident wasn’t my fault, so I didn’t think I needed to pull over.”
- “We both stopped but I could tell that there was no damage, so I left.”
- “The other person was getting upset, angry, violent, rude, mean or aggressive and I was afraid, so I left.”
- “I remember the car brushing against me, but I didn’t feel anything, and the other driver started chasing me, so I got scared and tried to get away.”
- “I panicked and did not know what to do, so I drove away.”
Or one the combinations below:
I was driving at night, I was backing up, I was trying to pull into a parking space, the person next to me parked too close to the line in the parking space, and I hit a parked car, a lamp pole, a street sign, a fence, a bicycle, a hot dog cart.
In any of the scenarios above you will probably be prosecuted for C.V.C. 20002 hit and run driving.
What the Law Says
Simply put, C.V.C. 20002 states:
If you are involved in an accident resulting only in damage to any property, including vehicles, you shall immediately stop your vehicle and at the nearest location that will not impede traffic or otherwise jeopardize the safety of other motorists. And immediately Locate and notify the owner or person in charge of that property and, present your driver’s license, and vehicle registration, to the other driver, property owner, or person in charge of that property. The info exchange must include the current residence address of the driver and of the registered owner of your vehicle. So, if it’s not your car give the info of the actual owner. The other people involved in the accident have to do the same.
If you cannot locate the property owners, then:
(2) Leave in a conspicuous place on the vehicle or other property damaged a written notice giving the name and address of the driver and of the owner of the vehicle., a statement of the circumstances AND without unnecessary delay notify the police department of the city where the collision occurred or, if the collision occurred in unincorporated territory, the local headquarters of the Department of the California Highway Patrol.
A little-known provision of code says that a parked vehicle that becomes a runaway vehicle requires the same actions as a regular accident or you are guilty of a hit and run.
If you don’t follow V.C. 20002 then you could get six months in jail plus a $1,000.00 fine for a hit and run.
A woman was attending an event in a large parking lot. When she was parking, she hit a parked car. A security guard saw her and told her she had to leave her information on the other driver’s windshield. She wrote down her information, showed it to the security guard, placed it on the other driver’s windshield and, when the guard left, she took the note back. Of course, the guard had recorded her license plate, reported her to the police and she was prosecuted for C.V.C. 20002 misdemeanor hit and run.
Result: Case dismissed.