Hit-and-run fatalities occur, on average, almost six times a day in the United States – and the number has increased in recent years.
In 2015, Americans crashed and fled more than 2,000 times every day. More people are skipping out on the consequences of their crashes than at any time since federal authorities first separated the statistic in 1975.
Among the more stunning cases: numerous incidents where a driver struck someone – usually a pedestrian or bicyclist – and kept driving, even though the person was embedded in the windshield or elsewhere on the car.
A Wisconsin cyclist who came through the windshield said he turned to the driver, Jamie Hang, and greeted him with “Hello, I’m the guy you hit on the bicycle.” Steven Gove, who had been delivering newspapers in 2014 when he was struck, said Hang didn’t notice him until he stopped in front of his own house.
“He looked at me and said ‘Who are you? What are you doing in the car?'” Gove said.
Hang was sentenced to three months in jail and lost his license for driving under the influence.
“The brain can do really extreme things,” said psychologist Emanuel Robinson, who leads a study group at Westat’s Center for Transportation, Technology and Safety Research. “Anytime we get into an accident we get emotional.”
Most people remain at the scene, some of them so filled with adrenaline that they argue over who is to blame.
“The other side of that is people who just want out of here,” Robinson said. “‘I’m scared, I don’t know what to do with this, I’m just going to leave.’ We also get in a situation where people are really good at rationalizing. Where people say, ‘It was nothing, just a little scrape, I don’t need to stay around.’ ”
Robinson pointed to a pair of European studies that reflected his thinking.
They portray the majority of hit-and-run drivers as men under the age of 25. Both studies – one by the Belgian Road Safety Institute that includes 10 European countries and the other by the University of Leicester that focuses on Britain – offer the caveat that their findings reflect only hit-and-run drivers who were caught or turned themselves in.
The Belgian report said 42 percent of the 853 offenders in its study were under the influence of drugs or alcohol. It said, “The bigger the consequences, the stronger the fear . . . especially when the consequences of the act are enormous.”
Leicester studied 53 people convicted of hit-and-run crashes, finding that 21 of them panicked into “flight mode,” seven were worried about their drinking, eight claimed they had no knowledge of the crash and 13 thought it was too trivial to report. Some worried their insurance would go up, and others feared police would discover unrelated crimes.
“For a small group of offenders, it’s not fear or the overwhelming flood of mixed emotion that leads to an inappropriate decision, but there is more of a lack of emotion,” the Belgian report says, concluding that these people lack “good moral judgment.”
The Belgian study says, “It’s a split-second decision . . . That’s why more hit-and-run accidents take place in poor lighting conditions, on more deserted roads or when no one else is around.” One of the most frequent stories police hear is, “I thought I hit a deer.”
“Some of those people may just be saying that because they know it’s better to say that than to say the truth,” Robinson said. “But given what the human mind can do, it would not surprise me that a good portion of those people fooled themselves into thinking they hit a deer.”
(c) 2018, The Washington Post · Ashley Halsey III