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Why hit-and-runs often go unsolved

By Augie Frost Modified: April 14, 2008 at 12:27 am •  Published: April 14, 2008
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The car was supposed to turn but instead drifted farther and farther into Terri Lucas' lane until finally it swiped her on the exit ramp from Interstate 40 to Meridian Avenue.

Lucas stopped. So did the other driver. Lucas looked at her car; the white paint of her new Chevrolet Cobalt was stripped to the primer.

She expected to exchange insurance information, but the woman who hit her claimed there was no damage, Lucas said. And then she drove off.

Lucas wrote down the tag number. She was lucky, she said.

Her hit-and-run accident was one of about two dozen that occur every day in Oklahoma, according to 2006 numbers kept by the Oklahoma Highway Safety Office. One in eight wrecks reported across Oklahoma that year were hit-and-run.

In Oklahoma City in 2007, about a quarter of the 11,399 accidents reported were hit-and-run, according to police numbers.

Lucas' quick thinking helped land her in the 30 percent of hit-and-run accidents that are cleared by Oklahoma City police. Clearance in police terms means they have completed the investigation and identified a suspect, not that a conviction has been handed down.

Oklahoma drivers can purchase uninsured motorist insurance, but that will not cover hit-and-run accidents, said Karen Beard, an agent with State Farm Insurance.

According to the Insurance Information Institute, a hit-and-run is considered the same as a non-insured driver accident in many states, and damage caused by a hit-and-run is covered and no deductible has to be paid.

Not every state has uninsured driver insurance.

A victim has to pay the deductible if repairs are made using uninsured motorist insurance in Oklahoma.

Lucas refused to use her insurance and her car has not been fixed. She said she is going to let the courts settle it and, hopefully, the suspect will pay for the damage.

Lucas does not want her premium to go up because someone else hit her, she said.

"It really infuriates people. They say ‘I didn't have anything to do with the accident so why do I have to pay my deductible?'” Beard said.

If a victim can identify who it was that hit their car, they can go after the culprit in civil court or have the police go after them. Often an insurance agency will go after a hit-and-run driver to recoup the deductible for their client, Beard said.

In Lucas' case, police had her come down to the station and pick the suspect out of a lineup. She picked the woman she said was the driver, and police confirmed the woman as the owner of the car.

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By the numbers

State wrecks

2006 numbers

75,408:

Total crashes

9,068:

Hit-and-runs

16: People killed in hit-and-runs

City wrecks
2007 numbers

11,399:

Total crashes

2,955:

Hit-and-runs

5: Fatality hit-and-runs

Oklahoma Highway Safety Office, Oklahoma City Police Department


Nationwide accidents
2003 to 2006 numbers

5.9 million: Nonfatal crashes

1.1 million: Hit-and-runs in South

366,000: Hit-and-runs in Northeast

650,000: Hit-and-runs in the West

835,000: Hit-and-runs in the Midwest

Source: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

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