Why you shouldn't take driving advice from Lil Wayne
"I just wanna hit-and-run like I ain't got insurance," Lil Wayne raps in a song with a not-safe-for-work title that's typically abbreviated as "R.A.F."
Lil Wayne may be rich enough to deal with the consequences, but being involved in a hit-and-run could put you in a financial bind - and behind bars.
"In general, leaving the scene, if you get caught, can take a minor traffic situation and turn it in to a nightmare for you," says Michael Helfand, an attorney in Chicago. "Whether that means you lose your license or go to jail depends on how bad the accident is, as well as your state and often the judge."
Any instance where you flee the scene after causing or contributing to an auto accident is defined as a hit-and-run. From a criminal perspective, some hit-and-runs have far more severe penalties than others.
Here's a look at what happens when you hit another vehicle or person and make a break for it.
Damaging an unattended vehicle
Have you ever backed into someone's parked car at the grocery store? If you didn't leave a note with your insurance details, it's generally categorized as a hit-and-run.
This type of accident is common, and drivers are notorious for darting the scene. According to a 2010 study from Allstate, 69 percent of its hit-and-run claims involved parked vehicles, with shopping centers being the most common spot for these accidents.
If you drive away after damaging another vehicle, the other car's owner will be responsible for covering the repairs even though it wasn't his fault. However, if he has uninsured motorist coverage, his damages will be limited to how much his deductible is (typically $500), and his insurer will cover the rest.
But if the other car's owner calls the police and you're able to be identified, you'll be responsible for more than the repair costs.
Penalties vary on a state-by-state basis. In Pennsylvania, this kind of hit-and-run cases is punishable by 90 days in jail, a $300 additional fine or both. In California, the penalties can be as high six months in jail or a $1,000 fine.
If you have car insurance, your insurer will cover the cost of repairing the other vehicle. If you've purchased optional collision coverage, your insurer also will pay for the damage to your own vehicle after you've reached your deductible limit.
If you don't have insurance, you're legally responsible for paying for repairs to the other car on your own.
In most states, a hit-and-run that results only in property damage is categorized as a misdemeanor crime.
Injuring or killing another person
If your vehicle is involved in a collision where someone else is injured or dies, it's generally classified as a felony if you flee the scene — even if you aren't responsible for the injury or death.
If someone in the accident died, you also could be charged with vehicular manslaughter or even murder. Generally, a murder charge applies only if it can be proven that you were purposely trying to harm or kill someone with your vehicle; however, if you were acting recklessly by drinking or speeding, a manslaughter charge may stick. In California, an involuntary manslaughter charge carries a sentence of up to four years, depending on the severity of the crime.
If you have car insurance, your liability coverage generally will pay for repairs to the other vehicle and medical costs for any injured passengers. If you have collision coverage, it will pay for your own vehicle and medical costs as well. However, some insurance policies don't provide coverage if you were over the legal drinking limit when the accident happened.
"If you're the driver in a DUI accident and you caused the accident, you most likely have coverage under liability for the other person's damages, but might not for your own damages," says Loretta Worters, a spokeswoman for the nonprofit Insurance Information Institute. "Check to see if your policy has an exclusion for DUI."
If you're responsible for a hit-and-run of an occupied vehicle, your driver's license may be suspended immediately. In Washington, for instance, a hit-and-run automatically leads to a one-year suspension.
And when you're eligible to drive again, you might find it hard to get affordable coverage, especially if your accident was the result of a DUI.
"Rates can go up for a DUI, depending on the insurer, maybe a few hundred dollars a year if it's your first time. But if it's a serious accident or you're a repeat offender, it could be devastating - probably three times your current rates, especially if you left the scene of the accident," Worters says.
What should you do?
If you are involved in a hit-and-run — whether a tiny fender-bender in a parking lot or a deadly collision — don't panic and flee the scene.
"Stop and call the police if there is any property damage or injury," Helfand says. "Even if you think nothing is wrong and leave the scene, you could get in trouble for that."
By contacting the police, you're creating an official record and taking responsibility for your actions. You'll still be liable for penalties associated with the accident itself, but by staying at the scene, you won't be subject to any of the steeper punishments that a hit-and-run driver would face.And if you take Lil Wayne's advice? Be ready to face the consequences.