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How to safely and effectively handle a hit-and-run incident

A car accident – regardless of whether it's a fender bender or a major collision – can be alarming. But do you know what's even more aggravating? A hit and run. And while you may think they're uncommon, they actually happen all the time.

In 2015, there were more than 38,000 hit and runs in New York City alone. Knowing what to do, should you ever experience a hit and run, can prove to be quite valuable.

The Prevalence and Danger of Hit and Run Accidents

Did you know that hit and run accidents are actually increasing in prevalence across many major U.S. cities? According to Larry Copeland of USA Today, there was a point recently where half of all collisions in Los Angeles involved a driver fleeing the scene.

Copeland also notes that national crash data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) shows the number of fatal hit and run crashes has consistently trended upwards in the years for which statistics are available. In 2009, there were 1,274 deaths nationally. That figure rose to 1,393 in 2010 and 1,449 in 2011.

How Victims Should Respond

So, the prospect of being involved in a hit and run accident isn't far-fetched. You could easily be the victim of a driver leaving the scene and it's important that you know how to respond in a safe and appropriate manner.

1. Get a License Plate Number

The single most important thing you can do is get a license plate number and state of registration. Not only will this be the first thing asked for by a cop, but you can also use it on your own. Contrary to popular belief, law enforcement isn't the only group able to run a search. There are a variety of other methods and when there's permissible purpose, such as possible litigation, a private citizen can look up a license plate.

2. Write Down as Many Details as Possible

Following any accident, quickly grab a pen and record as many details as possible while the incident is fresh on your mind. In fact, you should make this a habit whenever you're in an accident. You never know when a driver will flee the scene and you want to be able to answer any and all questions law enforcement and/or insurance has for you.

3. Call the Police

As quickly as possible – but only after you've recorded the appropriate details – call 911 and report a hit and run accident. If you're able to give them the make, model, and color of the car, they may be able to alert patrol officers in the area.

4. Call the Insurance Company

Next, you'll want to call the insurance company to report the accident. The more details you have on the accident, the better. Unfortunately, unscrupulous drivers will often hit objects and then report it as a hit and run to insurance companies to have repairs covered. As a result, your insurance company will seek out as much information as possible.

5. Never Chase or Confront the Driver

The final tip is short and sweet: never chase or confront the driver after leaving the scene. This could lead to additional accidents and collisions, or the driver could be armed and dangerous – you just never know. It's also important that you stick around the scene of the accident so that law enforcement can gather details for the police report.

How to (Legally) Hit Back

Being the victim of a hit and run accident can be scary and frustrating. It may also leave you feeling helpless. But the good news is that there are ways to fight back in a safe and legal manner.

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