Accidents happen, and they can happen to anyone at any time. That’s a fact of life, but dealing with the accident and helping the injured person is not only the right thing to do as a compassionate citizen, it’s also the law. Unfortunately, people don’t always do the right (or legal) thing, and hit-and-run accidents are on the rise. Hit-and-run drivers often panic, whether that’s because they’re doing something illegal, such as driving under the influence or driving with a revoked license, or simply because they’re scared and confused. This can lead to tragedy because critically injured civilians can die before they get the medical help they need.

The Tragedy: Hit-And-Run Accidents on the Rise

Over the past few years, Colorado has been seen a significant increase in hit-and-run accidents. Between 2008 and 2012, more than 100 people have died in 99 hit-and-run accidents in Colorado. This doesn’t even include the number of people injured as a result of hit-and-run incidents. From 2011 to 2013, about 1,300 people were victims of hit-and-run accidents in Denver, Aurora and Lakewood. Denver, in particular, reported an average of 17 hit-and-run incidents in the city every day. In 2012 alone, hit-and-run drivers killed 34 people in Colorado, nearly twice as many as in 2011. Most of the cases went unsolved, and Denver ranked 10th in the number of such accidents in the U.S. in 2012.

Handling a Hit-and-Run Accident

If you are involved in a hit-and-run, you have to handle the situation correctly. If somebody hits you – whether you’re walking, riding a bike or driving your car – then drives away, you may be in shock, which can cloud your judgment. An accident can be incredibly traumatic, hit-and-runs even more so, but you have to stay calm and collected and take proactive steps to protect yourself.

Whatever you do, don’t try to follow the hit-and-run driver because then you would also be leaving the scene of an accident. The first thing you should do is determine the extent of your injuries and call an ambulance if you’re able to and think you need one. Passersby and witnesses will also usually call 911, if you’re unable to do so. If you’re not seriously injured, call the police then try to collect and record as much information about the accident as possible. Use your cell phone or smart phone to take pictures of the scene. Write down what you were doing – which way you were turning, who had the right-of-way – and what the hit-and-run driver did. Provide a description of the car that’s as detailed as possible, including make, model and color, and a description of the driver, if you got a good look. Getting a license plate number is key, although that’s not always possible. Get the names and contact information for any people who stop to help because they have witnessed the accident.

In order to make sure you don’t become the hit-and-run driver, be sure not to leave the scene of an accident for any reason because you could face criminal charges if you do. This is called your duty to stop. If the other person is injured, you have to call an ambulance, exchange information with the other driver, bicyclist or pedestrian and wait on the scene until law enforcement officials arrive. While you’re waiting, it would also be a good time to call your insurance company or lawyer. If there were witnesses to the event, make sure you talk to them and take down their names and addresses for references.

Depending on the situation, you could be arrested or cited on the spot if the police decide you’re at fault. Even if you’re not at fault, and the other driver left the scene, it’s important to speak with a lawyer who specializes in car accidents as quickly as possible. Share everything you have with your lawyer, including the names of witnesses, descriptions of the hit-and-run vehicle and driver, the date of the accident, location, etc.

Colorado Is Tightening Rules to Punish Hit and Run Drivers

In 2012, the state legislature passed a hit-and-run law that increased the prison sentence for hit-and-run cases that resulted in bodily injury and death. A recent formalized system called the Medina Alert program sends out alerts so people can be on the lookout for hit-and-run drivers. The alert program encourages witnesses and passersby to share information to apprehend fleeing drivers. It’s important to always drive carefully, but accidents can’t always be avoided. If you’re in one, be sure not to leave the scene of the accident. If the other driver flees, your best defense is gathering as much information as possible and consulting an attorney who specializes in car accidents.