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Leaving the Scene of an Accident in New Jersey

New Jersey roadways are legendary. A densely populated state, where everyone drives everywhere, the congestion on our main roads and highways is the stuff nightmares are made of.  When people compare roadways to “parking lots” – many cars, none of them moving- you know it’s bad. And that applies to Route 18 in East Brunswick into New Brunswick, Route 287, the Garden State Parkway, and of course the New Jersey Turnpike, to name just a few. With that many people and that much traffic, there are bound to be more than a few accidents. Whether they are “fender benders” or major collisions, a motorist has an obligation to remain at the scene of the accident, and report it to the police. Failure to do so will result in summonses for 39:4-129 Leaving the Scene of an Accident (in NJ the statute is technically called Action in Case of Accident), and 39:4-130 Failure to Report Accident (In NJ technically called Immediate Notice of Accident). Even worse, if you’ve left the scene of an accident where an individual sustained serious bodily injury, you will also be charged criminally with 2C:12-1.1 Leaving the Scene of an Accident Resulting in serious Bodily Injury– A third degree indictable offense where, per the statute, the presumption against incarceration for a first time offender does not apply! Very serious stuff.

car-accident-5-332864-mThe penalty for Leaving the Scene of an Accident is severe, but varies depending on the circumstances. In the event that you are involved in an accident where there is only property damage (i.e.- you hit a parked car) a conviction will result in a 6 month suspension of driving privileges, a fine of $200 to $400, and/or 30 days in jail. If you leave the scene of an accident where there has been injury, and you are convicted, expect a 1 year suspension of driving privileges, a fine of  $2500 to $5000, and/or 180 days in jail. Failure to Report an Accident has penalties which are much less severe. It requires drivers involved in motor vehicle accidents resulting in personal bodily injury or death, or property damage in excess of $500 to notify the police within 10 days. Violating the requirements of this statute will result in a fine of $30 to $100. While technically the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission can suspend a person’s license for failing to comply with the statute, in over 15 years as a New Jersey criminal defense and traffic ticket lawyer, I’ve never seen it done.

car-accident-671890-mThe vast majority of times, a person who attempts to flee the scene does so for a reason, and they’re usually caught. Many times a person is in violation of other laws when they attempt to leave an accident unnoticed. They might be driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or be driving with a suspended license, or no insurance, or even have quantities of a controlled substance or other contraband in the vehicle. Whatever the case may be, they fear getting caught for something even more severe, so they flee. It is actually more difficult to do this successfully than they imagine. As mentioned above, New Jersey is a densely populated state and there always seems to be a witness to these events. Many times it is the person whose car was hit. Sometimes it is a bystander. Sometimes, a piece of a person’s car is left behind. Such was the case when I represented a person whose actual license plate fell off his car as he drove away. He swore up and down that he wasn’t involved in the hit and run. But when I received the evidence from the prosecutor’s office and reviewed it, I realized how they had tracked my client down. I really had my work cut out for me on that one… If you are involved in an accident, don’t make it worse by avoiding responsibility. However, if you have been charged with these offenses, to avoid serious legal consequences, it is important to hire a lawyer immediately.