Almost half of all hit and run drivers claim that they weren’t aware that they were breaking the law by failing to stop, according to a new study. The findings will alarm police at a time when the number of hit and run accidents is at a three-year high.
The startling level of driver ignorance has been revealed by the Motor Insurer’s Bureau, a not-for-profit organisation that offers compensation for people who have been involved in accidents involving uninsured and untraced drivers.
It surveyed 695 drivers who had been convicted of hit and run offences. Of those questioned, 45 per cent said that they didn’t think they had to report the accident.
The report also found stark differences between the age groups about why they failed to stop: younger drivers aged 16 to 34 were more likely to leave the scene of an accident because they were not insured, had been drinking or they “panicked”, while older drivers (over 34) were more likely to leave the scene if they did not think the accident was serious enough to report.
Dr Matt Hopkins of the Department of Criminology at the University of Leicester, which carried out the survey on behalf of the MIB, said: “The lack of awareness is quite astonishing.
“What we found was that once people get inside a car they have a tendency to neutralise what they do. They think ‘Oh I just caught him, it wasn’t too serious, there is no need to report it’.”
The law says that if a driver is involved in an accident and damage is caused to another person’s property, they have to stop and provide full details to the owner of the damaged property. That means they must supply their name and address. In the case of a person suffering injury they also have an obligation to report the matter to the Police “as soon as reasonably practicable” but, in any event, within 24 hours.
The penalty for failing to do this is between five 5 and 10 points on your licence.
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Even a relatively minor scrape counts as an accident: for example, scratching a bumper of another car in a supermarket car park requires the driver to stop and report it (usually by placing a note with contact details under a windscreen wiper).
The research comes as instances of drivers failing to stop appear to be on the rise. According to the MIB, hit and run drivers have become a more serious problem on Britain’s roads than those driving without insurance.
It claims that such incidents have overtaken uninsured drivers and now account for two thirds of all claims that it handles. Because the MIB is funded by individual insurance companies which in turn pass the costs on to policyholders, that means hit and run drivers are now responsible for the majority of an estimated £30 in ordinary motorists’ annual premiums that goes to the MIB.
The MIBs figures are backed up by official data. According to the Department for Transport, the number of accidents involving a vehicle that fled the scene have soared to a three-year high of 16,667 in 2014, the latest year for which figures are available, compared with 15,390 in 2013 and 15,662 in 2012.
One of the problems for police in prosecuting cases is tracing the drivers who – by definition – have fled the scene.
A National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) spokesman said: “Members of the public often hold vital information in hit and run cases.
“Sometimes, drivers panic and leave the scene before later handing themselves in. When they don’t, witnesses can be a key resource.
“We would encourage anyone who witnesses a crash, especially a ‘fail to stop’ accident, to take a note of the registration plate and driver if possible.
“It’s important to remember that the police need to prove who was driving the car and not just what vehicle was involved.”
Some forces have taken to social media to try and catch extreme cases. Earlier this year Sussex police released footage of a Fiat 500 ploughing into a pedestrian in Brighton. The victim was thrown into the air and his possessions sent flying, but the driver did not stop at the scene and can be seen turning off right further down the road. The video was shared millions times and led to the arrest of two people who are currently on bail.
The MIB says it is preparing to lobby the government to take the problem more seriously – potentially recommending stiffer penalties for those that don’t stop.
Ashton West, chief executive of the MIB, said: “Failing to report an accident is a major problem and we are not doing enough to combat it.
“We have managed to reduce uninsured driving by around half over the past decade but hit and run isn’t being tackled. We are dealing with 16,000 hit and run claims per year. It is a problem that hits every driver in their pocket and it’s time we stopped it.”
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