Few things are as nerve-jangling as an auto accident. Except maybe an auto accident where the other driver speeds away without rendering aid or taking responsibility.
In every state, it's illegal to crash and dash – even if it's an unoccupied parked car that's hit. Still, that doesn't stop people from doing it. In a PEMCO Poll a few years ago, 28% of Washington drivers who hit a parked car admitted to driving off without leaving a note. Among Portland, Ore., drivers, the numbers were even worse: 47%.
Here's what to do if you're a hit-and-run victim:
Safety first. If anyone is injured, get help immediately. If your car is drivable, move it out of the roadway so you're not in danger of being hit again. As tempting as it may be in the heat of the moment, DON'T chase after the driver and risk a potentially dangerous confrontation. Leave it to the police and your insurance company to sort out.
Get as many details about the other car as you can. If you were in your car at the time and saw what happened, write down the make, model and color of the car that hit you. If you saw all or part of the license plate number of the other car, record that, too. Take note of the direction in which the vehicle fled and details you could see about the driver. Ask any witnesses for their account of what happened, and get their names and contact information. Check with nearby businesses to see if their security cameras might have captured the incident. Record the time and location of the accident.
Take pictures of your car and surroundings. Document damage to your car, including close-ups of any paint that scraped off the other car. Also, photograph evidence (like a broken-off mirror or trim piece) left behind by the fleeing vehicle. It could be useful in identifying the runaway vehicle. Don't disturb or sweep up evidence if the police are investigating.
Call the police and stay on the scene until they arrive. If no injuries are involved, though, an officer may not be able to respond and the dispatcher will instruct you on what to do next. In Washington, if a police officer doesn't file a report, you're required to file a Vehicle Collision Report within four days if there was any kind of injury or vehicle or property (like a fence) damage exceeding $1,000. In Oregon, even if a police officer does file a report, you're required to file an Oregon Traffic Accident and Insurance Report with the Department of Motor Vehicles within three days when damages exceed $2,500, injuries are involved or a car needs to be towed from the scene. If the amount of damage seems borderline, you're better off to err on the side of filing a report.
Call your insurance company. If that's us, you can report a claim 24 hours a day online or at 1-800-GO-PEMCO. Hit-and-run accidents may be covered under your Underinsured Motorist Property Damage or Collision coverages if you purchased them.
Tell your insurance company about any accident, no matter how minor, if injuries were involved. However, if the damage to your car is minor and cosmetic, you may want to consider your deductible (the amount you pay out of pocket before your insurance kicks in) before filing a claim. If it's close and you wouldn't end up collecting much from your insurance company, you may want to pay for repairs out of pocket to preserve your claim-free discount, if your insurer offers one.
And here's what to do if you hit another vehicle
A hit-and-run is way worse than a simple at-fault accident. If you hit a car, stay on the scene and follow these steps for what to do after an accident. If you hit an unoccupied parked car and can't locate the owner, leave a note under the wiper documenting the damage you caused and giving your contact information.
It should say something like this:
On (date and time), I hit your (color, make, model) car, license plate (number). My (part of car) contacted your car's (part). Please call me so that I can provide my insurance information.
(Your name, phone number)
Then take a picture of your note and the damage to both cars. That level of documentation can save you from being blamed for any other damage to the car that you didn't cause, and once you've heard from the car's owner, it will help your insurance company process the claim.
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