When Does A Car Accident Become A Crime?

road block after car accident

Two men reporting a car crash for the insurance claim

For most of us, when we think of the word “crime,” our mind doesn’t immediately jump to “car accident.” While certainly not an enviable circumstance, the common image of a car accident is that of a minor civil offense where the courts are rarely involved. As Black & DePaoli, personal injury attorneys in Folsom, California, point out, however, there are specific circumstances where car accidents veer into the territory of criminal. Here’s what you need to know.


Regardless of the specific acronym, driving under the influence of intoxicants is a criminal offense. Specifics may vary from state to state, but by and large, operating a motor vehicle while over a certain blood-alcohol percentage, or under the influence of substances like marijuana, will impair your driving and is a major risk to others on the road. You can find a breakdown of DUI laws and the penalties, state-by-state, via DrunkDriving.org.

Hit And Run

Let’s say you’re involved in a collision with another driver, or even a pedestrian. What you’re supposed to do is stay on the scene until everything is resolved, but if you instead leave before identifying yourself and rendering aid to the other party, that’s a hit and run said Ankin Law Office (in most states even if you weren’t at fault for the accident).

Like with DUIs, the criminal penalties for hit and run accidents can vary from state to state. Many states make a distinction between misdemeanor hit and runs and felony hit and runs (when someone is injured), with the penalties for felony actions being higher. There could be fines in the thousands of dollars, and for more extreme cases, a possibility for a lengthy prison sentence.

Reckless Driving

Reckless driving, simply put, is operating your vehicle in a manner that might put other people at undue risk. It’s a crime in all 50 states, though the specifics, again, will vary from region to region. Since it is a broad offense, there are many actions you might undertake on the road that would be classified as reckless driving, from egregious violation of the speed limit to careless lane changes and beyond. Reckless driving might result in your license being revoked, or may even result in prison time.

Additional Driving Crimes

In addition to the above offenses, there are other circumstances that might make a car crash a criminal situation, such as operating a vehicle without a license, transporting an illegal firearm in a vehicle, or if police have a warrant on someone involved in a car crash. While these don’t have anything to do with operating the vehicle itself, they are factors that can change the nature of what would otherwise be a civil affair.