Florida has a major problem with hit-and-run accidents. Drivers who are involved in serious, injurious and even fatal crashes fail to take responsibility for their actions – and risk facing a minimum mandatory four years in prison – by fleeing the scene.
This presents a host of problems for injured victims. The first is that the failure to call for help or render aid results in precious time lost for emergency response that can mean the difference between life and death. Beyond that, survivors may have substantial medical bills, which are compounded by loss of wages and earning potential. Florida’s no-fault insurance typically pays for a small portion of that, but if the driver is not identified, the victims may have no choice but to pursue uninsured motorist coverage through their own insurer. This coverage isn’t mandatory in Florida, but this is one of the main reasons it’s recommended, especially because, as the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles reports, hit-and-run crashes spiked nearly 25 percent from 2013 to 2014.
Now, a recent case out of Port St. Lucie has sparked conversation about whether in-vehicle technology may be useful in preventing hit-and-run accidents or helping to catch perpetrators. According to news reports, a woman was driving a Ford truck when she allegedly rear-ended another driver in a Dodge minivan. But rather than stay at the scene, as required by F.S. 316.027, she allegedly took off. Meanwhile, the woman in the other vehicle was transported to a hospital with back injuries.
Shortly after the injured victim called police to report the auto accident, a local 911 operator received another call, this from an automated crash notification system. It’s a program called 911 Assist, and it’s been available in most Ford vehicles for about five years now. Anytime an airbag is deployed – and in this case, it was – the system automatically dials for help from emergency responders via the driver’s phone, which is paired to the vehicle with Bluetooth technology. Drivers do have to set up the program for it to work, but the driver had probably forgotten about it by the time the crash happened.
When the dispatcher connected with the driver, she repeatedly denied being involved in a crash. She told the dispatcher, “Everything was fine.”
But the dispatcher didn’t let up; she continued to ask then why the vehicle notified the system that she was involved in a crash. When she couldn’t provide an acceptable answer, dispatchers kept her on the line while they worked to locate her. At one point, the dispatcher asked her, “Did you leave the scene of an accident,” to which she allegedly responded, “No, I would never do that.”
Officers responding to her home found her vehicle in the driveway, with damages consistent to the crash scene. The airbag had been deployed, and there was paint on it that matched victim’s vehicle. She told police she’d struck a tree.
Eventually, she admitted she had been involved in the hit-and-run, according to authorities.
The victim, who was on her way to deliver gifts at a Christmas party, was not seriously injured and has since been released from the hospital.
Although the technology has been around for some time, it isn’t standard in the majority of U.S. vehicles. In the European Union, however, it will be mandatory by 2018.
Call Freeman Injury Law — 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights. Now serving Orlando, West Palm Beach, Port St. Lucie and Fort Lauderdale.
Florida Woman’s Car Turned Her in for a Hit-and-Run, Dec. 3, 2015, By Greta Weber, Slate.com
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