Vehicular Hit and Run

Vehicle Code sections 20001 and 20002 make it unlawful to leave the scene of a vehicle accident if you are the driver or (in the case where there are injuries) a passenger in a vehicle involved in the accident.

When the accident causes only damage, leaving the scene is a misdemeanor violation. (Vehicle Code section 20002.) Whether the damage is to another vehicle or property, no matter who is at fault, you are required under the law to stop your vehicle and provide your driver license and vehicle registration information to the owner or owners of the other vehicle(s) involved or to the owner of the property that is damaged. If the owner of the vehicle or property is not apparent (for example, when you hit a parked car) you must make an effort to locate the owner of the vehicle or property. If you are unsuccessful in that effort, you must leave a written statement explaining the circumstances and your name and contact information. These requirements apply only when there is damage to the other vehicle or property, not when the only damage is to your vehicle.

The more serious hit and run offenses occur when you are involved in a vehicular accident that results in the injury or death of another person. You must immediately stop your vehicle and render assistance, as necessary and reasonable, to any injured person. This does not mean you must intervene medically, but you must call 9-1-1 or otherwise arrange for medical assistance at the scene of the accident. You must also provide you name and current address as well vehicle registration information to the individuals affected by the accident and to law enforcement who responds to the scene. Failing to fulfill these requirements can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony depending on the extent of the injuries. (Vehicle Code Section 20001.)

Even if you are not at fault, these requirements apply.


While driving and texting, Marty swerved into a residential mailbox, knocking it over. Marty decided he could just drive away, and no one would be the wiser. However, the house where he hit the mailbox was outfitted with an impressive surveillance system and the whole thing was caught on tape, including video or Marty’s car and license plate number. The resident contacted the police; the police contacted Marty and observed evidence on the front bumper of his car confirming the captured video. Marty was charged with misdemeanor hit and run.

Cathy just got her driver license. She was excited but somewhat trepidatious when she took her mother’s vehicle out for the first time alone. Unfortunately, Cathy’s maiden solo drive was a disaster. Driving on the country road near her home, she struck another vehicle from behind. Cathy panicked. She quickly drove away. As it turned out, the driver of the car she struck suffered whiplash. Worse yet, the driver recognized Cathy’s mother’s car and promptly reported the incident to the police. Cathy was lucky that the other driver only suffered whiplash. She was charged only with a misdemeanor. If the driver had been more seriously injured, she could have been charged with a felony.

Jason was driving on a suspended license. Another driver ran a red light and hit his car. The impact was intense but not enough to render Jason’s car inoperable. Rather than stop, as required by law, he left the scene of the accident figuring it was not his fault and not wanting to get caught driving on a suspended license. As it turned out the driver of the car who ran the red light suffered a permanent, serious injury. A witness was able to provide the police with Jason’s license plate number. Even though Jason was not at fault, he violated Vehicle Code section 20001 and was charged with felony hit and run.


A misdemeanor hit and run, where there are no injuries or death, is punishable by up to six months in jail and up to a $1,000 fine.

A conviction of felony hit and run can potentially result in two to four years in state prison if the accident from which the driver fled caused death or a permanent, serious injury to another person. A permanent, serious injury is an injury that results in the loss or permanent impairment a body part or organ. Otherwise, the violation is a misdemeanor when there is an injury, but it is not serious. The penalty for a hit and run with minor injury is up to one year in jail and up to a $1,000 fine.


On an alleged violation of Vehicle Code section 20001 (hit and run with injury), you may have the defense that you did not know that the accident had caused injury to another person. The law requires that if, by the nature of the accident, it was probable that someone had been injured, leaving the scene can be a violation of section 20001. But what if, for example, the accident was only a small fender bender? Sometimes it is the case that a person suffers an injury--often whiplash or similar soft tissue injury--in a fender bender, you’re your Orange County hit and run defense attorney can argue that given the minor nature of the accident, it was not probable that someone suffered an injury.

You didn’t cause any damage. For example, someone reported you after witnessing you driving away after your vehicle ran up on a curb and into a residential yard. If there was no damage to the curb or yard, you are not guilty of hit and run.

You would also have a viable defense if you left the scene because the other driver became aggressive or threatening. (In such a case, it would be advisable to contact the police after leaving the scene.) The prosecution might charge hit and run, particularly if there were injuries, but your hit and run defense attorney would have a winning defense to the charge if you felt legitimately threatened.


Attorney William Weinberg has successfully defended drivers charged with hit and run violations for over 30 years. He offers a free consultation where he will review the facts of your case and offer his assessment of your options. You may contact him at his Irvine office by calling 949-474-8008 or by emailing him at

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