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Does Colorado Law Encourage Hit-and-Run Drivers?

In Colorado, like all states, it is illegal to leave the scene of an accident and illegal to drive while intoxicated. However, in Colorado the penalties for leaving the scene ("hit and run") are substantially less than those for injuring someone while driving under the influence. This raises the question: If you injure someone while driving drunk, will you receive a lesser sentence if you leave the scene than if you stay, render assistance and subsequently have a positive blood alcohol test?

DUI Jail Setence 25% Longer Than Hit-and-Runs in Colorado

The answer, disturbingly, is yes. The newspaper reviewed sentences back to 2005 and found that a drunk driver can expect a jail sentence that is 25 percent longer than the hit-and-run driver. The statistics also showed that prosecutors are much more likely to dismiss charges for fleeing the scene in an effort to obtain plea bargains and avoid trial. Drunk drivers are not likely to see those charges voluntarily dismissed.

This can result in rewarding what has been described as "morally repugnant" behavior. Rather than getting out of the car to help a person injured by their vehicle, some are choosing to flee and abandon injured people to avoid prosecution for driving while intoxicated (DWI). Law enforcement officials note that it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to prove an individual was drunk if he or she is not caught until well after the accident. There is no such problem with the person who stays to render aid. One prosecutor estimated that 90 percent of those who flee the scene of an accident are intoxicated.

Yet prosecutors and judges have often waived punishment for fleeing the scene, according to the research. It appears though that law is starting to catch up with this unsavory situation. In 2008, the legislature changed the law for those who flee the scene after causing a death. It is now the same as the law for those who are caught drunk on the scene. Legislators noted that they hoped to pass similar laws for those who injure people and leave the scene. Unfortunately, Colorado does not have the funds for the increase in prison costs that would result. Will Colorado's legal loophole be closed? Time will tell.

Source: The Denver Post