Ross Koplin

What To Do if You are in a Car Accident

What do you do in case of a traffic accident?

What do you do in case of a traffic accident?

Colorado’s auto accident statutes provide specific rules on how drivers must behave after an auto accident. Failure to comply with the statue provisions can result in criminal prosecution and as a result, it is important for drivers and their attorneys to understand the nuances behind these laws. The legislature, in enacting the laws, has addressed a number of different types of accidents including: accidents involving personal injury and death; accidents involving property damage; accidents involving unattended vehicles or other property and accidents involving highway fixtures and traffic control devices. Each category is address in depth below.

Accidents Involving Personal Injury or Death (C.R.S. § 42-4-1601)

The law, understandably, treats accidents involving injury or death with the highest level of scrutiny. The requirements post-accident are very stringent and the legal repercussions for not obeying the law are quite severe. There are three major categories of requirements associated with accidents involving personal injury or death are:

  1. remaining at the scene of the accident
  2. providing identifying information and aiding injured parties and
  3. reporting the accident to relevant police authorities.

Remaining at the Scene of the Accident

That statute requires that a driver should leave his or her car where it comes to rest, stop at the scene of the accident, or immediately return to the scene of the accident. While requiring drivers to stop their vehicles at the scene of the accident, the law also mandates that such stops should be made “without obstructing traffic more than necessary”. This somewhat ambiguous part of the statute leaves some amount of room for interpretation. It appears that the primary reason for this ambiguity is that lawmakers wanted to leave accidents in a condition as close as possible to facilitate a proper investigation, while incentivizing drivers to avoid creating huge traffic jams that may potentially cause more accidents.

The statute provides drivers with the ability to leave the scene of the accident ONLY to report its occurrence to the proper authorities. Leaving the scene of an accident for any other reason may be construed as a strict liability offense subjecting the driver to prosecution. The resultant charges are dependent on the seriousness of the injuries involved, specifically:

(a) A class 1 misdemeanor traffic offense if the accident resulted in injury to any person;
(b) A class 4 felony if the accident resulted in serious bodily injury to any person;
(c) A class 3 felony if the accident resulted in the death of any person.

The statute defines an “‘injury’ as any physical pain, illness, or impairment of physical or mental condition.” A “serious bodily injury” is “an injury that involves either at the time of the actual injury or at a later time, a substantial risk of death, a substantial risk of serious permanent disfigurement, or a substantial risk of protracted loss or impairment of the function of any part or organ of the body, or breaks, fractures, or serious burns.”

Providing Identifying Information and Aiding Injured Parties

C.R.S. § 42-4-1601 also mandates that drivers comply with the notice, information, and aid requirements of C.R.S. § 42-4-1603. Specifically, any driver involved in an accident that results in injury, death, or property damage must give:

  • his or her name,
  • address, and
  • the registration number of the vehicle he or she is driving

to any parties present and involved in the accident. Additionally, the driver is required to show his driver’s license if it is requested. Furthermore, drivers have an affirmative obligation to contact the relevant police authority and give them the information listed above if the other parties involved in the accident are not capable of receiving the information.

Finally, the statute requires drivers to provide for the care of persons injured in the accident, if it is practical, including their transportation to a hospital if such action is apparently necessary.

Reporting the Accident to Relevant Police Authorities

Finally, C.R.S. § 42-4-1606 and C.R.S. § 42-4-1607 require drivers (or passengers in the event of a driver’s incapacity) to report ANY traffic accident resulting in personal injury or death to the local police, state patrol, or other relevant police authority as soon as possible and comply with any police instructions. This requirement also applies to accidents involving property damage as will be discussed below.

Accidents Involving Only Damage to Driven and/or Attended Vehicles (C.R.S. § 42-4-1602)

Many low-impact accidents involve only vehicle damage. Unlike the statutes regarding accidents that involve personal injuries, the statute regarding accidents involving only damage to vehicles gives more guidance on when vehicles should be moved and allows drivers somewhat more flexibility in how they handle the situation. If the accident has occurred on a traveled portion, median, or ramp of a divided highway and each vehicle involved can be safely driven, the statute states that each driver shall move their respective vehicles as soon as practicable off the traveled portion, median, or ramp to a frontage road, to the nearest suitable cross street, or other suitable location to fulfill their duty to give notice, information, and aid.

As with accidents involving injuries, it remains very important to remain as close to the scene of an accident as is possible because leaving the scene of an accident may result in serious criminal charges. Additionally, the statute regarding remaining at the scene of the accident, when only damage to attended vehicles is involved, sets forth that drivers are obligated under C.R.S. § 42-4-1603, 1606, & 1607 to report the accident to police and provide both the police the other drivers involved in the accident with the same identifying information required after accidents involving personal injuries.

Accidents Involving Only Damage to Unattended Vehicles or Other Property (C.R.S. § 42-4-1604)

Single driver accidents are addressed by C.R.S. § 42-4-1604 which covers accidents involving a single driver and either an unattended vehicle or a piece of property (yard fences, mail boxes, etc.). In these situations the driver must safely park his/her vehicle as close as possible to the scene of the accident and try to find the owner of the damaged vehicle/property and provide their name, address, and the registration number of the vehicle they were driving when the accident occurred.

If the driver of the vehicle involved in the accident is unable to find the owner of the damaged property/vehicle, he or she must then leave the above information in a conspicuous place in or on the damaged property. Finally, the driver must contact the relevant law enforcement agency and give them the location of and other relevant information pertaining to the accident per C.R.S. § 42-4-1606.

Accidents Involving Only Damage to Highway Fixtures or Traffic Control Devices (C.R.S. § 42-4-1605)

Signs and other traffic control devices are often damaged by vehicles. If drivers hit one of these objects they are obligated to contact the relevant transport authority, such as the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT). The law requires that drivers give their name, address, and the registration number of their vehicle. After contacting the traffic authority, drivers must then report the accident to the relevant law enforcement authority such as the Colorado State Patrol (CSP) or local police department. This type of accident is somewhat unique in that there is no requirement that the driver stop his or her vehicle.

In conclusion, remaining at the scene and providing the appropriate contact information to the police and any other interested parties are an absolute necessity in almost all traffic accidents in Colorado. Failing to comply with the appropriate statutes can result in criminal prosecution. Individuals facing prosecution for their actions after an accident are strongly encouraged to speak with a defense attorney that is fully versed in the nuances of this area of law.

Legal Disclaimer – The information contained at this web site is not intended to be legal advice and all information regarding Colorado criminal law is general content only and should not be relied upon for any specific Colorado criminal law situation. Information on this web site is not intended to be comprehensive and does not cover all the issues, nuances or ramifications related to the topic discussed. This web site may not be updated routinely to reflect the very most current Colorado law.

Individuals should consult an experienced Denver criminal attorney, Denver DUI laywer, or Denver traffic lawyer for advice regarding an individual situation. 

by Ross Koplin

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Ross E. Koplin, Attorney at Law

(303) 831-8924
600 17th Street, Suite 2800 South Denver, Colorado 80202

Ross Koplin is a Traffic Attorney serving the Denver Metro area who provides quality legal representation to those involved in traffic misdemeanors, including prosecution for traffic tickets, speeding tickets, driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs (DUI), or other traffic offenses.

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