Like the rest of the nation, Houston, TX has seen a dramatic increase in hit and run accidents over the last two decades. Just from 1999 to 2001, the number of reported hit and run accidents increased almost 20%. The years afterward have shown a steady climb in the rate of Houston hit and run accidents.
The increase in the number of Houston hit and run accidents shows a strong tie to the increase in the number of unlicensed drivers on our roads. A study by the AAA Foundation of Traffic Safety showed that between 1993 and 1999, 21% of all fatal crashes involved unlicensed drivers or drivers with suspended licenses.
No one knows the true number of unlicensed drivers on U.S. roads. But estimates place that number in the millions. Many think that the high number of unlicensed drivers and hit and run accidents by these drivers bears a strong tie to the high number of illegal immigrants in this country.
After all, if an illegal, unlicensed immigrant causes a fatal accident and remains at the scene, he or she might risk detention and deportation. The possible consequences make fleeing the scene worth the risk to the perpetrator. If the driver flees, that driver might not get caught and might suffer no consequences from the fatal act. But if the driver remains at the scene, the prospects aren’t good.
But illegal immigrants by no means account for all hit and run accidents. Legal citizens of high status who don’t want to risk bad publicity might flee the scene of an accident that has left injured or wrongfully killed victims. Drunk drivers who don’t want the consequences of a DWI arrest will often try to flee if they can. People driving without a valid license or under a suspended license will try to flee so that they don’t get caught for their crimes. And sometimes ordinary citizens who just don’t want to take responsibility for their mistakes will flee the scene of a fatal accident.
A government report in the FARS database shows that the 7 states having the largest illegal immigrant populations also have the largest numbers of fatal hit and run accidents.
The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that unlicensed drivers remain OVER 66 TIMES more likely to cause a hit and run accident than licensed drivers.
Many statistics appear somewhat murky and open to interpretation. But the statistics correlating fatal hit and run accidents to the numbers of unlicensed drivers and illegal immigrants have a surprising clarity. But without a clear and consistent enforcement policy, the problem likely will not go away.
Stepping up enforcement against those who drive without a license would help. Stepping up enforcement of immigration laws would help. Blanket patrols, sobriety checkpoints, no refusal weekends, highly publicized educational and enforcement campaigns, and video enforcement could all help to curb the problem. But enforcement takes money and agreement on the nature of the problem and how to address it. Opinion remains divided on this issue as on so many others.
So we will continue to see innocent victims killed by unlicensed and uncaring hit and run drivers. Houston accident attorneys could help the surviving family of these unfortunate victims to obtain compensation and some closure for the crimes in some cases. But no amount of financial compensation can ever make up for the loss of a loved one to an early death at the hands of a heartless hit and run driver.