Written by attorney Anthony J Van Zwaren

Leaving the Scene of an Accident-a serious offense

If you cause an accident in NJ, don’t leave the scene of the accident or fail to report the accident

As an attorney who practices in the Municipal Courts throughout New Jersey, one of the common mistakes that are made by drivers who are involved in auto accidents is leaving the scene of an accident. This is an error, no matter how minor the damage to the other vehicle may appear. I have had people leave an accident site like a parking lot thinking there was no damage to the other vehicle or believing that nobody saw them, only to have the police send a summons to their homes informing them that they are being charged with leaving the scene of an accident under NJSA 39:4-129.

The penalties for violating this statute are especially severe when a person, whether passenger or driver of the other car are injured or die. Not only can one face fines not less than $2,500.00 or more than $5,000.00 or face 180 days in jail. There is also a loss of driver’s license for a period of one year. And the statute says that anyone causing “injury" to any person, with no qualifier saying that it has to be a serious injury. Assistance must also be rendered such as transport to a doctor or hospital to anyone who is injured if emergency services such as police or ambulance are not available. If someone dies, one can also face criminal charges as well, for leaving the scene of a fatal accident under N.J.S.A.2C:11-5.1 and other possible charges.

If you are involved in an accident in New Jersey, there is an obligation to report it to the police either at the scene, or if that is not practical, as soon as possible thereafter. For instance, if you have to leave an accident site because you are in a dangerous location then you have a duty to go to the nearest police station possible, NJSA 39:4-129(d). In any circumstance, where there is an accident involving any form of damage to property, it must be reported to the police either at the scene, or at the nearest police station if it is not possible to stop at the accident site. A person who violates this provision can be fined from $200 to $400 or face possible imprisonment and may lose his rights to operate a motor vehicle for a period of six months from conviction.

While a violation of NJSA 39:4-129(b) leaving the scene of an accident that causes only property damage is a 2 point violation, being charged under section (a) where injury or death has occurred carries an 8 point penalty.

You should note that the statute covers accidents even to one's own vehicles or to curbs, utility poles, or other structures. State v Graney, 174 NJ Super 455 (App.Div. 1980). Although there is a provision that states that damages to property must exceed $250.00 to create a presumption of knowledge of being involved in an accident, with the cost of repairs, or even painting, to a car can easily exceed that amount, so even a small dent or scratch can create a presumption of knowledge.

So, if you are involved in an accident, the consequences of being charged with leaving the scene of an accident outweigh the possible consequences of facing a charge like careless driving. On the other hand, if you are involved in an accident that you did not immediately report, the next best thing to do is to notify your insurance company of the accident as soon as possible, so that they can handle any potential claim against you for either personal injuries or property damage. It can also help you when dealing with prosecutors if you have already been charged with leaving the scene.

Additional resources provided by the author

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