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Hit-And-Run Crash Deaths Reach All-Time High

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Generic mixed traffic picture from CBS News. Generic mixed traffic picture from CBS News.

New numbers released by AAA show a record rise in the number of deaths from hit-and-run crashes.  In 2016, the last year on record, 1,980 deadly hit-and-run accidents in the U.S. claimed 2,049 lives – a 60 percent increase from 2009.  Pedestrians and cyclists make up nearly 65 percent of those killed by hit-and-run drivers.

Every 43 seconds in the U.S., somebody is involved in a hit-and-run, and 1 in 5 pedestrian deaths are due to hit-and-runs.

What's driving the dangerous trend?  AAA believes part of the reason is that cities have become more walkable and have been encouraging people to bike to work.  But they haven't built infrastructure where there is a divided area for a bike lane that's protected from traffic, reports CBS News correspondent Kris Van Cleave.

Cindy Cooper's father, John, was riding his motorcycle when he was struck and killed by a car that ran a stop sign and took off in June of 2007.

"We've gone through and we tried to, like, figure out what had happened and how this could have been prevented," Cooper said.  She said the driver who killed her father was a 17-year-old using her cellphone.

In another case, dash-cam video caught the most common type of hit-and-run crash:  one that results in property damage.  The driver of a dark colored SUV is seen sideswiping another vehicle and driving away.

"Obvious potential contributing factors might be distraction for pedestrians, cyclists and motorists alike," said Jake Nelson, AAA traffic safety advocacy and research director.  "And also just the fact that as more people are out there walking and biking every day, there are not the infrastructure countermeasures to protect them."

AAA also noted that research on hit-and-run drivers is limited because those at fault often get away.

"Oftentimes we don't know who those hit-and-run drivers are.  We only know what we know about the victims," Nelson said.

When the crashes are deadly, some research shows the driver is more likely to be a young male with a prior history of driving under the influence and license suspension who tends to drive an older model car.  Studies found drivers who leave the scene are between two and nine times more likely to have been intoxicated at the time of the crash.

But Cooper hopes her story can help change this trend.

"Raising awareness is how I feel like we can combat this… it's just going to make, hopefully, that number go down," Cooper said.

Every state has laws that make it illegal for a driver involved in a crash to flee the scene.  Colorado and some cities in California have implemented Amber Alert-style messages pushed through texts, email, local television, and radio if a driver is involved in a hit-and-run.

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