ORLANDO, Fla. – Every February, Florida Highway Patrol shines a spotlight on the problem of hit-and-run accidents. Hit-and-runs are a big problem statewide, and FHP is using this month to bring awareness and educate drivers.
"We have seen a dramatic increase in hit-and-runs here in the Central Florida area, especially right here in Orange County,” Trooper Steve Montero said.
"Last year, we saw a dramatic increase in hit-and-run fatalities. And that is something that we want to decrease as much as possible."
Florida, and more specifically Orange County, continues to top the nation in both the number of pedestrian-related accidents and hit-and-runs.
"The increase that we're seeing is people on suspended drivers licenses, not having insurance and just generally being scared. We're encouraging all drivers. You've got to stay there. That is your obligation as a driver is to stay on scene,” Montero said.
Once an accident has happened, keep it at just that.
"We want to advise drivers that look, you've been involved in something that you see as an accident. Once you leave, you are turning something possibly from just a crash into something criminal,” Montero said.
If a driver chooses to leave the scene of an accident, the criminal element is instantly raised.
"You're taking a crash and turning it into a misdemeanor, possibly into a felony, depending on the severity of the injuries, or if a fatality is involved, you're looking at a minimum mandatory sentence of 4 years if someone dies, and if you leave, and we convict you,” Montero said.
FHP said drivers should activate their hazard lights and move to the right shoulder as quickly and as safely as you can.
They should make sure everyone is safe and then ask for help.
"Dial 911. Advise them that you hit something, but we want you to remain on scene. That's the biggest thing,” Montero said.