Vehicle Code Section 20001 & 20002

Hit and Run in California: What You Need to Know

Vehicle Code section 20001 and 20002

If you are a driver involved in a car accident in California the Vehicle Code requires you to identify yourself to all parties involved.

Vehicle code section 20002 makes it a misdemeanor to leave the scene of an accident without identifying yourself where only property was damaged. Vehicle Code section 20001 makes it a misdemeanor, and a Felony in some circumstances, to leave the scene of an accident where injury to another person occurred. The amount of damage sustained, or injury inflicted, who was at fault, or other circumstances surrounding how the accident happened do not change your duty to stop and identify yourself to everyone involved.

If you are in an accident you must:

  • Identify yourself by name
  • Provide other drivers with your current address (not just the address on your license).
  • Provide other drivers with a copy of your registration on request

If you hit a parked vehicle, and the owner is not present, you must also place an easily visible note with your identifying information, along with the address of the vehicle’s registered owner if you do not own the car you are driving, and place a call to the local police department and/or California Highway Patrol.

Misdemeanor Hit and Run Under Section 20002

Misdemeanor hit and run is a failure to stop and properly identify yourself after an accident that only results in property damage.

Common Examples of Misdemeanor Hit and Run

  1. Albert is driving to work behind Beatrice. Beatrice, in a rush and late to work because of a long line at the local coffee shop, dumps hot coffee into her lap and slams on her brakes in a panic. As a result of Beatrice’s sudden and unexpected heavy braking, Albert is unable to stop in time and makes contact with Beatrice’s rear bumper. Albert gets out of his car, and seeing only a minor dent in Beatrice’s bumper, no damage to his own vehicle, and believing Beatrice to be at fault for the accident anyway, continues driving to work.
  2. Albert has committed misdemeanor hit and run. Who was at fault in this example is irrelevant. Albert hit Beatrice’s bumper, her bumper was damaged, and Albert left.

  3. Charlie has never been good at parallel parking, but sees a spot that seems large enough to park his truck. As Charlie is backing into the space, he scrapes the side of a compact car. Charlie does not see the compact car’s owner, so he runs an errand hoping to run into the car’s owner when he returns. When Charlie comes back, the other car’s owner is still not there. Charlie did not have more time to wait so he drove away without leaving a note.
  4. Charlie has committed misdemeanor hit and run. Once Charlie damaged the other vehicle, he had a duty to leave a note with his identifying information, and the information of the registered owner of the truck if Charlie did not own it. Charlie was guilty of hit and run when he left to run his errand, not just when he drove his truck away. It is irrelevant that Charlie intended to return.

Penalties for Misdemeanor Hit and Run

Vehicle Code Section 20002

    • Up to 6 months in county jail.
    • A fine of up to $1,000.00.
    • A restitution order to cover any damage you caused
    • Up to 3 years of summary probation.
    • AND two mandatory points on your driving record.

Vehicle Code Section 20001 as a Misdemeanor

    • Up to 1 year in county jail, with a likely minimum of 90 days.
    • A fine of no less than $1,000.00, but no more than $10,000.00.
    • A restitution order to cover any damage you caused.
    • AND two mandatory points on your driving record.

Felony Hit and Run

Hit and run can also be charged as a felony under California Vehicle Code section 20001 if there has been a failure to exchange information, and if someone another person has been injured. What this means is that if you are in an accident where another person has been injured, and you do not exchange personal information as required above, then you may be charged with a felony depending on the circumstances. The prosecutor will have a great deal of discretion in how to charge a violation under section 20001, and if the offense should be punished more severely for permanent serious injury.

Common Examples of Felony Hit and Run

  1. Albert and Beatrice are involved in an accident due to Beatrice’s bad driving. As a result of the accident, Beatrice suffers a serious head injury resulting in permanent blindness in both eyes. Albert’s car was not seriously damaged, but he is angry at Beatrice’s bad driving and how it dented his new luxury car, so Albert leaves the scene without exchanging information.
  2. Albert has likely committed a hit and run that will not only be charged as a felony, but may carry enhanced punishment because of the seriousness of Beatrice’s injuries. Just as in the example we examined above, it does not matter who is at fault, all involved parties must exchange information after the accident.

  3. Charlie and Dave are involved in an accident where Charlie ran a red light and collided with Dave’s brand new car, rendering Dave’s car un-drivable. Dave suffers a large and deep cut that will heal without scarring and several bruises with no permanent injury. Charlie breaks his arm. Out of fear of the financial consequences of the accident, Charlie leaves without exchanging information as required.
  4. Because Charlie left the scene of an accident involving injury to a person other than himself, Charlie may be charged with felony hit and run. The prosecutor has wide discretion, based on the facts and circumstances, to decide if Charlie will be charged with a felony rather than a misdemeanor. Based on the severity of Dave’s injury, he suffered a large deep cut, this case would likely be charged as a felony. However, since none of Dave’s injuries were permanent, the increased penalties for serious permanent injury will not be an option.

Penalties for Felony Hit and Run Under Section 20001

  • A fine of no less than $1,000.00 but no more than $10,000.00.
  • AND between 16 months and 3 years in state prison. If there was permanent serious injury or death to someone other than the person who fled the scene of the accident, then the prison term will be 2, 3, or 4 years.

Possible Defenses

Sections 20001 and 20002 require property damage and/or injury to someone other than the person who failed to exchange the required information at the scene of the accident. If your car is the only one damaged, or you are the only one injured, a hit and run charge may not be appropriate. You should consult a licensed attorney who will examine your case and determine if any defenses apply in your case and if there are alternatives to serving time in jail.

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