It happens all the time in UM’s tight parking lots. You are late for class, you impatiently pull your car into a just-too-tiny parking space when CRUNCH, impact is made with the neighboring car. It sucks, you screwed up and you know it, but the very next thing you do can determine (and limit) the amount of trouble that you get in. You are required to attempt to contact the person whose vehicle you have struck, and you can do this in several ways.
1. You can wait by the car until they return. This is not always the most favorable option, as return time is never predictable and, as we said before, you are already late for class.
2. You can attempt to find the owner of the vehicle. If you are clearly parked in front of a store, you may enter the store and ask that the owner be called over the intercom, but be careful; if the owner drives away and reports the damage later, you may be charged with leaving the scene, the consequences of which will be explained in a minute.
3. You can leave a note with your name and phone number in a very conspicuous place on the exterior of their car. This is preferably on the windshield tucked under the wiper securely and visibly. Technically you are required to leave your name, your insurance agency, and claim phone number, but if the damage is minor, there is a chance that you can bargain with the other driver to pay for their damages and not involve the police or the insurance agencies.
You may ask yourself at that moment why you would do such a thing. It seems so easy to just drive away and hope the other driver doesn’t notice. Sometimes it is that easy, but the consequences for acting that way can be severe, and considerably more severe than the penalties for being honest.
In Florida, hitting an unattended vehicle with your own and causing damage, even if it is just cosmetic, and then driving away is a second-degree misdemeanor punishable by up to 60 days in county jail and a fine of up to $500. You then have to face your insurance company, who will be angry at you for costing them and for being dishonest about it. Not to mention, you’ll have to tell your parents.
On a harsher note, leaving the scene of an accident that causes injury is a third-degree felony punishable by up to five years in state prison and a fine up to $5,000, and leaving the scene of an accident that causes death is a first-degree felony punishable by up to 30 years in state prison and a fine up to $10,000.
The reason that running after hitting is so appealing is the lack of immediate consequence and the chance that the owner won’t notice the new dent that you just made in their bumper. Here’s the thing though: You can never be sure who is watching because security cameras are everywhere these days. It’s not worth the risk.
If you hit another car, it is your fault. It is your job to be a responsible and good citizen and act properly. The law applies to everyone; if it was your car that was hit, you would want the person responsible to take action as well. If you drive around with university memorabilia stuck to your car, remember that you are representing the school; if you hit and run, you make all of us look bad. Drive safely and do the right thing.
Kate Christian is a fourth year architecture student. She may be contacted firstname.lastname@example.org.