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Why people flee the scene of hit and runs

Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on January 26th, 2012 at 12:31 pm

"You can't imagine the horrific draining feeling of realizing that you just hurt someone and getting this intense panic that screams at you to get away as fast as possible because you're about to be in the worst trouble of your life."

Yesterday we shared information about two recent hit-and-runs. Not surprisingly, an interesting discussion followed in the comments. For many, hit-and-runs get at the heart of how we get along (or don't) on our roads. Hit-and-runs also bring up the big question: Why do people leave the scene after hitting someone?

One commenter, Natalie, offered a personal story that I felt was important enough that it needed to be highlighted here on the Front Page.

Here's Natalie's comment (emphasis mine):

"... I'd say that half of the problem is that people flee because they're terrified that they're about to go to jail for something they honestly were not trying to do. Having now ridden exclusively bikes for about 8 months, I am comfortable admitting that two years ago I was a driver in a minor collision with a bike rider at night who wasn't wearing any lights.

You can't imagine the horrific draining feeling of realizing that you just hurt someone and getting this intense panic that screams at you to get away as fast as possible because you're about to be in the worst trouble of your life. After talking myself down from driving away in a panic, I walked back to the busy intersection where the collision had happened, sat by the injured bike rider, allowed all the witnesses to treat me like a monster, then drove the guy to the hospital with help from a police officer, because he was refusing ambulance service due to not having any health insurance.

My insurance got him a new bike and whatever medical tests and treatments he wanted, and we ended up being completely at peace with what had happened, because we had both screwed up and both just wanted to go on with our lives. Blanket villainizing [sic] doesn't help."

We should all keep Natalie's perspective in mind the next time we hear about a hit-and-run.

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Comments
  • Indy January 26, 2012 at 12:51 pm

    I can remember as a teenager in New Jersey, delivering subs for a chain out there in my car, speeding pretty much everywhere.

    One time I was coming to an intersection where the light was red, I was turning right, so I stopped, looked left for cars, and started to drive. All of a sudden I heard a cry out and I instinctively stopped before I even looked to where I heard the cry. A pedestrian had entered the crosswalk and I had indeed hit her, though not enough for injury or pain. A split second change, more gas, less brake, and I likely wouldn't have barely pushed her, and I wouldn't be here typing this today, or in Oregon, likely, for that matter.

    It is amazing the incredible power we have as drivers. The rules of the road reduce, but do not eliminate the chance for harming pedestrians or bikers by following them perfectly. We can end a life far easier and far quicker and with such little margin of error. And yet millions of people don't think about this, we stay at 5-10 mph over the limit without a care in the world, we roll at stopsigns. Bikers? "They should take responsibility for their actions. I as a driver sure do." But we as bikers very well know that death by bike is an almost certain impossibility, unless trying to do so.

    As for a hit and run, it takes the experience of going through one to truly understand the psychology behind it. Fight or flee comes to mind, and flee is an awfully powerful reaction compared to thinking through your actions...

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    • dan January 26, 2012 at 1:58 pm

      Sounds like you were at fault, but no savvy pedestrian (especially on the East Coast) walks in front of a car without making sure the driver has seen them and will yield.

      Rule #1: no one else is as interested in my safety as me.

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  • MossHops January 26, 2012 at 12:58 pm

    Maybe I'm drawing false distinctions, but I can sort of understand someone giving into an animal instinct to escape a horrific reality that came to be because of a driver's unintentional act.

    However, what I can not forgive nor can I sympathize with is the driver who is given time to process their emotions and the horrific event, yet still chooses to never step up to admit liability. The hit and run on Powell by the Ski Bowl owner a few years back is a good example of this type of, frankly, psychopathic behavior that breaks down faith that we have in each other as a community.

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    • Natalie January 26, 2012 at 1:41 pm

      I would probably call it severe cowardice, rather than psycopathy, but I do see your point.

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      • Doug Smart January 26, 2012 at 2:45 pm

        Thank you, Natalie, for finding the courage to share your experience as well as to do right thing at the time of your collision.

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    • Spiffy January 26, 2012 at 3:48 pm

      I thought that was on hwy 43, and that the driver eventually turned over their car without admitting what happened...

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      • MossHops January 26, 2012 at 3:56 pm

        Did a bit of digging, and found it was on SW Macadam Ave. I'm pretty sure that he turned over his car only after the police found it was him. Also he never actually confessed to the hit and run.

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  • John S January 26, 2012 at 1:10 pm

    Another reason to give people a choice of not driving, aka freedom of movement, freedom of transportation choice and not forcing people, practically* or purposely into a car: Less chance of killing someone.

    *most places in the US, Ok yes you maybe can legally walk or ride a bicycle (or transport yourself by your own human power -- a basic human right, imho). But practically speaking, you can't. You either drive a car or you are SOL.

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  • Champs January 26, 2012 at 1:15 pm

    There's also no incentive to stop if you're driving illegally. You *might* get caught for the hit-and-run, but they'll never be able to prove you had drugs or alcohol in/on your person.

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  • Doug Morgan January 26, 2012 at 1:27 pm

    It's people that shouldn't be driving in the first place. Suspended licences, no insurance and people that are currently drunk, can probably explain many, if not most, hit and runs in general. Let alone with bicycles. Surprise! They aren't good drivers either. It's pretty basic isn't it?

    I've always

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  • Bjorn January 26, 2012 at 1:57 pm

    The reason most everyone commits hit and run is the same reason that the Ski Bowl guy did, they are drunk and they know that if they wait until they are sober to turn themselves in that the penalty will be far far lower than if they are caught while still drunk.

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    • Doug Smart January 26, 2012 at 2:52 pm

      A few weeks ago I sent a suggestion to my State Representative asking that Oregon's hit-and-run law be toughened. Much as our implied consent law carries penalties for refusing a breathalyzer test that are similar to those for failing one, I asked that "Failure to Perform the Duties..." be revised to include a presumption of impairment. That's in hope of plugging this particular loophole.

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      • Bjorn January 26, 2012 at 4:11 pm

        If you kill someone when you are drunk you can get 10 years, if you do it while drunk and you flee the scene and sober up before turning yourself in you will be out in under a year. Look at the case of Amy Stack who killed a girl in Corvallis and then went home and ordered some pizza. This psychopath dripped marinara sauce onto the car i.e. she was eating pizza while inspecting the damage that had been done by the girl she had just killed, and still she did less than 1 year in jail even though she had a past DUI. I agree that the penalties should be the same, maybe you can't legally presume that someone is impaired because they run, but you could have the penalties be equal which would basically be the same thing.

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        • Doug Smart January 27, 2012 at 6:21 am

          Robin Jensen was the young woman who Amy Stack killed. Robin was in my son's high school graduating class. The circumstances of her death, and then the recent hit-and-runs are what prompted me to write to my Representative.

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  • Dave Proctor January 26, 2012 at 1:58 pm

    "They aren't good drivers either. It's pretty basic isn't it?"

    This is the crux of it, isn't it? We've built our communities such that not being able to use a car is like not being able to breathe and so we tolerate mediocre and downright bad drivers because the alternative, suspending a license, seems overly cruel. It's like giving someone a handicap where it should feel like revoking a privilege.

    And when everyone drives, it's very difficult to police who is driving when they shouldn't be.

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  • beelnite January 26, 2012 at 2:02 pm

    Natalie described a feeling I hope I NEVER have to experience - on either end. Gotta stay vigilant when we're the vulnerable and the one with power to kill with our foot. Seems like I save some poor soul the agony of having to live with my untimely death at least 3-4 times a week cuz I saw them before they saw me. You know?

    Ride safe folks and remember our duty when we drive to be the best we can be. That means taking the responsibility seriously. Be the best damn driver or bicyclist you can be - EVERY TIME. People are counting on us.

    Recommended Thumb up 7

    • was carless January 26, 2012 at 4:26 pm

      More like 3-4 times a day.

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  • beelnite January 26, 2012 at 2:06 pm

    One more thing... a plea... please remember that if you are "lectured" by another cyclist or driver about your behavior, that, yes, we the lecturer, may very well have a really strong self-righteous streak and an almost uncontrolleable need to communicate... but that doesn't change the fact that someone who's admonishing you is probably doing so because they care and don't want to see you or anyone injured or splatted.

    Thank you.

    I will let you know if I think there's something you're doing that I think will cause you to one day be injured, killed or worse injure or kill another.

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  • spare_wheel January 26, 2012 at 5:31 pm

    "but that doesn't change the fact that someone who's admonishing you is probably doing so because they care"

    Except that quite a bit of lecturing focuses on slavish obedience of minor traffic laws and has relatively little to do with actual caring.

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  • Spiffy January 26, 2012 at 7:01 pm

    I'll take "Because They're a Selfish Coward" for $500, Alex!

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  • Opus the Poet January 26, 2012 at 7:53 pm

    As a victim of a hit-and-run I can say that one reason drivers leave the scene is they did it on purpose i.e. it was an assault with a deadly weapon. If the guy that hit me had stayed he would have (hopefully) been charged with assault with a deadly weapon as witnesses saw him make a U-turn to come back and hit me (or he may have been charged with attempted murder seeing how I didn't have a pulse or respiration when witnesses first approached me). And yes I realize how incredibly lucky I am to have survived that wreck.

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  • Drew January 27, 2012 at 9:16 am

    I am reminded of an episode of This American Life, narrated by a person who hit a bike rider, causing a fatality. Well worth a listen:
    http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/359/life-after-death

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  • jim January 27, 2012 at 12:43 pm

    We have turned into a society where people don't want to be held acountable for their actions, many of us want things given to us by govt.

    Recommended Thumb up 1

    • Nik January 27, 2012 at 8:49 pm

      Non Sequitur Theater presents...

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  • bikefish January 27, 2012 at 8:03 pm

    I ponder the cultural shift that occurred over the past century or so, causing us to think it peculiar or a sign of some sort of personal flaw ("being a bad driver") if someone isn't able to maneuver a massive hunk of metal at high speeds several times a day without running into anything/anybody.

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