Hit-and-run traffic crashes with injuries or deaths are currently escalating annually across North Carolina and the nation at an alarming rate. In Charlotte, North Carolina’s largest city, a hit-and-run crash with an injury or death occurred every day on average last year and is currently 5.4% higher so far this year.
Statewide, there are nearly five hit-and-run incidents every day on average in which someone is injured or killed and the driver flees the scene. Last year, there was a 5.7% increase in personal injury hit-and-run crashes (1,663 statewide) and a 13% increase from 325 to 366 in Charlotte.
Meanwhile, traffic accidents last year statewide increased only 3.2%.
“This has been buried beneath the public’s radar,” said David E. Parsons, president and CEO of AAA Carolinas. “But hit-and-run property damage, injuries or deaths represented nearly one of every four reported accidents in Charlotte last year. This is a painful traffic safety epidemic.”
Harsh weather in the first quarter of 2014 reduced traffic and hit-and-run accidents state-wide compared to 2013 but both traffic volume and hit-and-runs are expected to climb the next nine months as the weather warms and summer driving begins.
“Drivers feel they have nothing to lose by driving off,” said Parsons, who is also a board member of the AAA Carolinas Traffic Safety Foundation. “The drive-off penalty has to be so harsh that fleeing isn’t a desirable option.”
“We believe roughly half of the hit-and-run drivers are driving while intoxicated and the other half are driving without a license – either never got one, it was suspended, revoked or expired,” said Sgt. David Sloan of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department’s Major Crimes Unit.
Kill someone while driving your car, drive off without stopping, and if convicted of the offense of hit and run causing serious injury and death, the time you could spend in prison is up to 41-62 months.
Often such cases result in additional charges with additional prison time.
With no criminal record, a hit-and-run conviction would make the driver eligible for probation under North Carolina’s new 2011 complicated structured sentencing law.
“This is a legislative and judicial tragedy,” said Parsons. “The law needs to be strengthened. The penalties should be very stiff for any driver whose vehicle strikes someone, kills or injures them and the driver flees the scene.”
Some hit-and-run statistics:
North Carolina had 51 hit-and-run deaths involving a pedestrian in 2010-2012 meaning one of every five pedestrians killed in traffic was smashed by a hit-and-run driver. There were 91 total fatal hit-and-run traffic deaths during that period, according to the University of North Carolina’s Highway Safety Research Center.
One in seven North Carolina drivers is estimated to be without a valid driver’s license, including those who have never taken a driving test. Drivers without a valid license are 66% more likely to be involved in a hit-and-run, according to the national AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.
Charlotte has a 73% arrest and conviction rate for drivers involved in a fatal hit-and-run over the past three years, according to Sgt. Sloan.
Total hit-and-runs for property damage, injury and fatal crashes went up 1,181 (13.3%) from 8,903 statewide in 2012 to 10,084 in 2013.
Nationally, hit-and-run deaths climbed 14% from 1,274 in 2009 to 1,449 in 2011, according to the most current data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).