Why Are Fatal Hit-and-run Accidents At an All-time High?

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky
why are fatal hit and run accidents at an all time high

Roadway fatalities have been on the decline relative to population since the 1970s. However, the safest year on record since car ownership became commonplace was actually 2014. Deaths spiked in the following two years, with a very modest decline in 2017. While some of the increase can be attributed to more people driving more miles than ever before, accounting for both elements still results in a higher overall rate of fatal incidents.

Hit-and-run statistics mimic this trend, with 2,046 pedestrian deaths reported in 2016. It’s not the total number that’s alarming — it’s the rate of increase, too. The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety now claims hit-and-run fatalities are becoming a serious issue; reported incidents within the United States have seen a 60-percent increase since 2009. In fact, they’re the highest they’ve been since the NHTSA started keeping track in 1975.

Figuring out why is the difficult part, though. It may simply be due to the number of pedestrians and motorists distracted by their phones. Urban centers have also seen steady population growth of late. Perhaps simply putting so many cars and people in a smaller area are causing the problem.

There’s some credence to the latter assumption. According to Auto Insurance Center, which broke down existing data on hit-and-run accidents using data acquired from the NHTSA’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System, more than 2 in 3 of the hit-and-run deaths from 2016 involved pedestrians and/or bicyclists. While it’s safe to assume most fatal collisions between vehicles don’t normally allow one to putter off afterward, motorists are also less likely to come into contact with individuals forgoing motorized transport on the highway.

The states with the highest rate of fatal-hit-and runs per 100,000 residents were Nevada, Florida, Tennessee, Texas, California, South Carolina, Louisiana, Connecticut, and Alaska. However, New Mexico surpassed them all with 2.4 deadly hit-and-runs per 100,000 people in 2016 — the most recent year with sufficient data.

Tring to find correlations between the state is difficult. While a number had above-average homelessness rates and most were on the high end of roadway fatalities relative to their population, there were multiple outliers. For example, Connecticut had one of the lowest death rates overall in 2016 and New Mexico’s homeless population is average relative to its size.

States also vary wildly in terms of seasonal weather conditions. But incidents tended to be more common in the months where foot traffic would be more common and drop sharply during the coldest parts of the year. October typically saw a large spike in hit-and-runs, almost assuredly due to Halloween. Still, even this was not true every single year.

The Auto Insurance Center also broke down the recorded reasons for a hit-and-run. Many incidents were attributed to things like failure to yield, careless driving, or reckless driving. Over 6 percent were deemed to be non-traffic violations and were instead categorized as manslaughter, homicide, or assault committed without malice — which isn’t particularly useful.

In fact, most of the collisions have no identifying factor, and many drivers are never caught. Overall, police only make arrests in about 1 percent of all hit-and-run crashes each year, a rate that has remained stagnant since 2013. Even New York City, which typically has more witnesses and ways to catch hit-and-run offenders, only nabs about 9 percent of them. While it’s usually a little easier to catch individuals who flee the scene after fatally striking someone, 2 in 3 still get away, according to the NYPD.

“Hit-and-run crashes in the United States are trending in the wrong direction,” Dr. David Yang, executive director of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, said in the press release accompanying the study. “Our analysis shows that hit-and-run crashes are a growing traffic safety challenge and the AAA Foundation would like to work with all stakeholders to help curtail this problem.”

[Images: Auto Insurance Center ]

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2 of 82 comments
  • Lon888 Lon888 on Nov 05, 2018

    Cause simplified: Big azz SUVs/trucks, drivers without formal driving instruction, cell phones.

  • Janice Thompson Janice Thompson on Nov 12, 2018

    Adding another problem. The A pillars have become huge since 2012? . That front blind spot can hide 3 or 4 pedestrians. Even worse if I am doing a rolling stop. Good thing I haven’t hit anybody yet.

  • StormEagle 400 miles range
  • Inside Looking Out Enforcing laws? It is so yesterday! Welcome to California!
  • Lou_BC You'd think cops would have an understanding of the laws they are supposed to enforce.
  • Merlyn I’m on my second Spark and love it! I can pass any car I’ve never had a problem going up a hill it does just fine. As for cargo I can fit three suitcases, two book bags and still have the front seat for a passenger. Not sure what point this guy is trying to make. I have hand free phone service and Sirius radio plug in my phone and have navigation. I would buy another spark in a heartbeat.
  • Buickman I won't own one and I'll be happy!