So why are there so many hit-and-runs here? Probably the biggest contributing factor is the high rate of uninsured motorists on Miami-Dade roadways, says Lt. Pat Santangelo of the Florida Highway Patrol. "Sometimes they are illegals and don't have a license, much less insurance."
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In Florida about one in five drivers is uninsured. In Miami that number is at least 25 percent higher.
Even when they charge hit-and-run drivers, prosecutors sometimes have a difficult time making a case stick. Part of the problem is that cops can't use information gathered for an accident report in a criminal investigation. An officer must tell drivers he is concluding the traffic investigation and that he is going to ask questions pertaining to a criminal investigation. That makes investigations tricky.
Moreover, adds Miami-Dade Assistant State Attorney David I. Gilbert, such cases are difficult to prove, even if investigations are well done. "A lot of cases come down to accident reconstruction experts," he says. "Ours may say the defendant was doing 55 mph in a 30 mph zone, but [the defense expert] may say he was doing 40 mph."
Lack of evidence poses another problem. "If they don't leave 200 feet of skid marks, and there were no traffic lights, what are we left with?" Gilbert adds.
Kendall-based personal injury attorney Justin Ziegler says until the state imposes harsher penalties against hit-and-run drivers, the problem will continue. In fact he expects the numbers to grow. "Hit-and-runs are going to increase as the middle class keeps getting smaller," he says. "People just can't afford to pay insurance. And if they get into an accident, they panic and leave."
Ziegler's advice to those who are insured: Make sure you have uninsured motorist coverage in your policy. "You always assume that the other guy doesn't have insurance," he adds.