Colorado Laws Regarding “Leaving the Scene of an Accident”
What Is Required of a Driver After an Accident?
Colorado requires drivers involved in auto collisions to perform certain tasks immediately after an accident. A driver who doesn’t comply with the statutory requirements can get charged with a range of offenses, some of which can be serious.
After a collision a driver is required to stop their vehicle at the scene or as close as possible and return to the scene. C.R.S. 42-4-1601(1). Violating this statute can result in being charged with a Class 1 misdemeanor if the accident resulted in an injury to any person and can result in a jail sentence ranging from 10 days to 1 year, plus a fine of between $300 and $1,000.
However, if someone was seriously injured, the charge is raised to a Class 4 felony which carries a possible jail sentence of between 2 years and 6 years and a possible fine of between $2,000 and $500,000. 42-4-1601(2)(b). A conviction for this charge also requires the Department of Motor Vehicles to revoke the driver’s license.
The legal definition of “injury” is broad. The statute defines “injury” as “physical pain, illness, or any impairment of physical or mental condition. C.R.S. 42-4-1601(4)(a).
The statute defines “serious bodily injury” as an “injury that involves, whether at the time of the actual injury or at a later time, a substantial risk of death, a substantial risk of serious permanent disfigurement, or a substantial risk of protracted loss or impairment of the function of any part or organ of the body, or breaks, fractures, or burns of the second or third degree.” C.R.S. 42-4-1601(4)(b).
If a driver leaves the scene of an accident where someone has died, they can be charged with a Class 3 felony. This charge can result in a jail sentence of between 4 years and 12 years and a fine of between $3,000 and $750,000. C.R.S 42-4-1601(2)(c). This charge also requires the Department of Revenue to revoke the driver’s license.
If a driver leaves the scene of an accident where there is only damage to a vehicle, the case is charged as a Class 2 misdemeanor, which carries a possible jail sentence of between 10 days and 90 days and a possible fine of between $150 and $1,000. C.R.S. 42-4-1602. A conviction for this offense results in 12 points being applied to a license.
A driver may leave the scene if necessary to report the collision to the police if no one is in the other vehicle or the driver needs immediate medical attention.
Many crimes require a specific mental state to convict the offender, such as “knowingly,” or “intentionally.” Leaving the scene of a collision does not require a mental state. It is a strict liability offense, which means arguing one didn’t mean to leave the scene or didn’t know they were supposed to stay is no defense.
What a Driver Should Do at the Scene After an Accident
Assuming a driver remains at the scene of an accident, they are required to do certain things. C.R.S. 42-4-1603 requires the driver to provide their name, address, and vehicle registration number to the other party, and, if requested, show the other party their driver’s license. The statute also requires a driver to provide reasonable assistance to any person injured, including calling 911 to report the injuries if necessary. Failing to provide this information will serve as a basis to be charged with leaving the scene of the collision as outlined above.
While not required by statute, it is good practice to provide insurance information to the other party, even if the driver does not believe they were at fault. It is also a good idea to take photographs of the scene and the damage to all vehicles involved.
In order to prove someone failed to comply with the above requirements a prosecutor needs to prove the defendant, 1. was the driver of the vehicle, 2. did not identify himself as the driver, 3. did not provide reasonable assistance, and 4. failed to report the accident to the police. People v. Medrano-Bustamante, 2013 COA 139 (2013).
If a driver collides with an unattended vehicle, such as in a parking lot, the driver is required to stop, locate the owner or driver, inform them of the collision, and provide their name, address, and registration number of their vehicle. If the owner of driver cannot be located, the driver of the colliding vehicle is required to securely attach, in a conspicuous place, a written notice of what happened, their name, address, and registration number. C.R.S. 42-4-1604.
Reporting the Accident to Law Enforcement
Additionally, a driver is required to report the collision to the police. C.R.S. 42-4-1606. Failing to report an accident to the police can result in Class 2 misdemeanor. This charge carries a possible jail sentence of between 10 and 90 days and a fine of between $150 and $300. A conviction of this offense will also result in 12 points being applied to a driver’s license.
A driver who leaves the scene of an accident and fails to report the collision will likely be charged with both violating C.R.S. 42-4-1601 and 1606, resulting in two tickets totaling 24 points, plus a ticket for any other offense committed in the course of the accident. Often, additional charges include failing to yield the right of way, careless driving, or reckless driving.
Statutes of Limitation
If a driver leaves the scene of an auto collision and fails to report it to the police, the police will investigate the incident and attempt to identify the offender. They can charge someone up to 10 years after the collision for a Class 3 felony if the driver is charged with vehicular homicide, 5 years for a fatal crash, 3 years for an accident causing serious bodily injury, and 1 year for misdemeanor traffic offenses. C.R.S 16-5-401.
How We Can Help
The consequences of leaving the scene of an accident or failing to report an accident can be severe. At the very least, a defendant’s driving privileges are in jeopardy. In a worst-case scenario, a jail sentence is in consideration.
If you’ve been charged with leaving the scene of an accident or failing to report an accident, you need legal representation. The attorneys at The Bussey Law Firm, P.C. are experienced in defending these types of cases. They can analyze the facts and develop an effective strategy for your defense. If you’ve been charged with leaving the scene of an accident, call The Bussey Law Firm, P.C. at (719) 475-2555 to discuss your case.