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After Drinking Do I Have to Stop For a No-Damage Accident?

Getting out of a tight parking spot can be tough with the limited parking in Oakland and the East Bay. Tapping the bumper may not leave any damage but if you leave without a note, someone may report you for a hit-and-run. If you have a couple of drinks, the situation can be even more tense. If you wait to talk to the driver, they may think you were drunk and call the police, even if you're under the limit.

You have certain obligations under California traffic laws. If you follow them, you shouldn't get into too much trouble. If the accident involved minor to no damage, you shouldn't have to call the police. If you can't find the driver, you can just leave a note. Below are some things to consider if you hit a car with no visible damage. 

If you are reported for a hit and run or drunk driving, you should talk to a California defense lawyer. Contact experienced East Bay DUI defense lawyer Lynn Gorelick for legal advice.  

How Do You Know If There Was Damage?

When backing up or pulling out of a parking space, it is easy to go a little too far and tap another vehicle. Even if it feels like a big bump, there may be no visible damage. However, not all vehicle damage is visible. Bumpers protect vehicles—which is where the name bumper comes from. They can pop back out after a minor impact. However, bumpers can also hide other damage. 

There may also be damage to the body or the frame that is hard to see at night or in a parking structure. Don't assume there is no damage just because you can't see an obvious dent. Leaving an accident where you don't see damage could be a hit-and-run if there is property damage. 

You may be taking a chance and leaving a minor fender-bender without waiting for the owner or leaving a note. Even if you don't see any witnesses, there may be security cameras. Under California laws, here is what you are required to do in a minor accident with property damage.

California Vehicle Code 20002 for Property Damage

Under California Vehicle Code 20002, "The driver of any vehicle involved in an accident resulting only in damage to any property, including vehicles, shall immediately stop the vehicle at the nearest location that will not impede traffic or otherwise jeopardize the safety of other motorists."

At that point, you have two options. You can locate the vehicle owner and notify them of your name, address, and owner of the vehicle. If requested, you should also present your driver's license and vehicle registration. However, finding the owner of the car can be difficult unless they're sitting in their car. On the side of the street or in a parking lot, you may have no way of locating the owner. 

Instead, you can leave a note on the vehicle. You should leave the note in a conspicuous place, with your name, address, and owner of the vehicle. You are also supposed to, "without unnecessary delay notify the police department of the city wherein the collision occurred."

However, these requirements only apply if there is damage to any vehicle. 

What If There Was No Property Damage?

California law requires you to report the accident if there was property damage. If there was no property damage, you should not be charged with misdemeanor hit and run for leaving without a note. 

Unfortunately, the vehicle owner may try to report you if you didn't leave a note, even if there was no damage. If the police stop you and you've been drinking, then you have a whole other problem to deal with. You may avoid someone reporting a hit-and-run if you leave a note. If there is no damage, then you shouldn't face any criminal penalties.  

Drunk Driving Arrest and Leaving an Accident

The worst combination is leaving a fender bender where there was property damage and getting busted for drunk driving. Drivers who feel buzzed may panic when they hit another car. Reporting the accident can mean the police will know you've been drinking. However, leaving the scene of a DUI accident can risk doubling down on the criminal charges. 

Driving under the influence (DUI) is a misdemeanor for most non-injury first offenses. However, because an accident was involved, the prosecutor may be less likely to offer the minimum penalties. The DUI penalties can include:

  • Up to 6 months in jail

  • Court fines of up to $1,000

  • Ignition interlock device (IID) for 6 months

  • DUI school for 3 months or longer

  • Suspended license

In addition to the DUI, a hit and run without injuries is a misdemeanor punishable by up to 6 months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000. 

Are There Defenses To Leaving an Accident?

You may have left the accident thinking there was no damage. If you are accused of a hit-and-run without leaving a note, your California criminal defense attorney can review your defense options. Legal defenses can include: 

  • There was no damage: If there was no damage, you don't have to leave a note.

  • Mistaken identity: You may not have even been involved in an accident but your car matched the description of the hit-and-run vehicle. 

  • You were not driving: If someone else was driving your car, they were responsible for stopping and exchanging information. 

How Can a Criminal Defense Attorney Help?

If you are accused of a hit-and-run or DUI hit-and-run, you may be facing misdemeanor criminal charges. An experienced criminal defense attorney can negotiate to have your charges reduced so you avoid jail time. Your attorney may also be able to get diversion to avoid a criminal record.  

If you want to know about your legal defenses, talk to an experienced East Bay DUI defense attorney with experience handling cases just like yours. Find an East Bay trial attorney who has successfully defended Oakland drivers charged with drunk driving and hit-and-runs. If you get a DUI in Oakland or Alameda County, call attorney Lynn Gorelick at 510-785-1444 or 925-847-3006. 

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