Iowa Hit and Run Laws

Iowa hit and run laws: Is leaving the scene of an accident a felony in the Hawkeye State?

Under 321.261, Iowa hit and run law, leaving the scene of an accident is a misdemeanor or class D felony. The facts presented determine the penalty.

Quick take: Iowa Hit and Run Laws

  • Leaving the scene of an accident that results in death is a felony.
  • Do not admit fault at the scene of an accident.
  • If the act was intentional, prosecutors may pursue vehicular homicide charges.
  • You must stop and render reasonable assistance to anyone injured.
  • The victim may take civil action to recover compensation.
  • You have two years to file a wrongful death claim or injury claim.


Section 321.261, Iowa hit and run laws explained

Under state law, whenever a driver is involved in a traffic collision or accident. The individual has a legal obligation to stop the vehicle immediately, render reasonable assistance to anyone injured, and exchange information with the property owner, struck individual, or -struck vehicle owner. Consequently, an accident turns into a crime if a person involved knowingly or intentionally leaves the scene.

What if you feared for your safety?

Your safety trumps your obligations at the scene of an accident, meaning if you have a solid reason to fear for your safety – it is not a crime to leave the scene and report the incident to law enforcement. For instance, if the other driver brandishes a weapon or if a hostile mob forms, you have reasonable cause to fear for your safety.

What are your obligations at the scene of an accident in Iowa?

As mentioned, after an accident, you must immediately stop your vehicle and park it in a manner that does not disrupt traffic more than is necessary. If the vehicle you were driving contains hazardous materials or if the victim dies or suffers serious injuries, do not move the vehicle unless when instructed to do so by an emergency worker or law enforcement.  

That said.

Your obligations immediately after an accident in Iowa are:

  • You must give your name, driver’s license number, and vehicle registration to the victim, driver, passenger in the struck vehicle, or law enforcement.
  • Exchange insurance information.
  • Render reasonable assistance to anyone injured.
How long do you have to report an accident in Iowa?

If you leave the scene or if a law enforcement officer is not present at the scene, you have 72 hours to file an accident report. Failure to do that will result in the suspension of your driving privileges.

Download the accident report form here.

You may also report the incident at the nearest law enforcement headquarters.

Iowa hit and run laws: misdemeanor offenses

Failing to stop at the scene of an accident is a “serious misdemeanor” according to section 3 of 321.261, “death or personal injury.” If the victim suffers a serious injury and the driver knew or should have known of his involvement in an accident, that driver is guilty of an aggravated misdemeanor.

Is leaving the scene of an accident a felony in Iowa?

Yes. If you injure more than one person, or if the accident results in death or injury and the driver leaves the scene without fulfilling the requirements above, that driver is guilty of a class D felony. The charges may escalate into class C felony charges if, according to section 4 b of the statute, quote:

“The driver of a vehicle who knows or has reason to believe that the driver’s vehicle caused an accident resulting in the death of one or more persons, and who fails to stop or comply with the requirements of subsection 1, is guilty upon conviction of a class “C” felony.”

What is the penalty for a hit and run/leaving the scene of an accident in Iowa?

Depending on the resulting damage, leaving the scene of an accident in Iowa is punishable by:

  • Hit and run, property damage: misdemeanor, punishable by up to thirty days in jail and a fine of up to $625.
  • Hit and run, injury/property damage: serious misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail and a fine going up to $1875.  
  • Serious injury/ property damage: aggravated misdemeanor, punishable by up to two years in prison and or a fine not less than $625 and not more than $6250.
  • Death: class D felony, punishable by up to five years in prison and a maximum fine of $7500.
  • Death/property damage/injuring more than one person: class C felony, up to ten years in prison, and/or a maximum fine of $10000.

When does an accident turn into a felony in Iowa?

If the driver of a vehicle involved in a hit and run in Iowa was intoxicated at the time of the accident, or if the accused has prior convictions, prosecutors may pursue class D felony charges. Note that in IOWA, causing serious injury by vehicle and vehicular homicide are felonies.

What are the civil penalties for leaving the scene of an accident in Iowa?

The victim of a hit and run has the right to take civil action against the driver. However, to avoid going to trial. The parties may agree to settle the issue out of court through mediation. If mediation fails, the case will go to trial. To initiate mediation -your attorney will send a demand letter to the other party. If the accused agrees to pay, there is no need for trial.

We suggest consulting with a mediation attorney to determine if mediation is suitable for your situation.

How do victims recover compensation?

Through your lawyer, you may file a claim based on negligence, or claim compensation for lost wages, medical bills, pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment for life, reduced earning capacity, emotional distress, and so on. That prompts the question:

How is fault determined in Iowa after a hit and run?

After an accident, whether you are the victim or the person who struck the victim, you mustn’t admit fault or use language that the other party may use against you. For example, if you are hit by a vehicle, and you use words such as “I’m okay” or “nothing serious,” The other party may use those words against you.

If you are the driver, words such as “It was my fault” may be used against you.

Note that Iowa is an “at-fault state.” Meaning, the person that causes the accident is responsible for compensating the victim. Under Iowa’s “at fault” rule, the claimant or victim must show that the other person is responsible for his loss, injury, or property damage.

What that means is, you must show the court that :

(1) the driver owed you a duty of care.

(2) they breached that duty of care by doing something that caused the accident.

(3) your injuries, loss, or property damage resulted from the actions or failures of the other party.

That makes it vital to do the following after an accident in Iowa.

What to do after an accident in Iowa

The Driver

  • Immediately stop your vehicle and exchange information with the person struck.
  • Render reasonable assistance to the victim.
  • If you leave the scene, report the incident within 72 hours.
  • Never admit fault at the scene or in your report.
  • If the accident results in serious injury, death, or expensive property damage, call your attorney before you call your insurer.

The Victim

As the victim, it is in your best interest to ensure that law enforcement can hunt down the person that struck you. To that end, this is what you should do after an accident if the driver leaves:

  • Document everything. If you have a camera, take photos, if you do not, write down everything, including the fleeing vehicle’s plates, car color and make, and the driver’s physical description.
  • Gather witness testimonies, if capable, gather witness contact information or accident footage from someone who has a dashcam.
  • Do not admit fault. Admitting fault may cost you your compensation.
  • Do not follow the driver or take the law into your own hands.
  • Call law enforcement immediately.
  • Seek medical assistance. You will need your medical report to file a claim.
  • Contact an attorney.
  • Contact insurance.

What is the statute of limitations in Iowa for personal injury?     

If the accident results in property damage, you have five years to file a claim. On the other hand, if you suffer injury or if the victim dies, the statute of limitations is two years. Note, if the victim dies, the clock to file a wrongful death claim starts ticking at the time of death.

So, we recommend consulting with a claims attorney to find out what claim is suitable for your situation.

Iowa hit and run laws defenses

If the case goes to trial, you will need a defense. Consequently, it would be best if you started building a defense strategy immediately after an accident. To that end, do not leave the scene until law enforcement arrives. If you leave the scene, make sure you have a valid reason.

What if you hit a parked car or cause property damage?

Iowa hit-and-run laws require you to make a reasonable effort to find the property owner. If you cannot, make sure that you leave a note with your contact information on a conspicuous section of the vehicle.

Iowa hit and run affirmative defenses:

  • Leaving the scene was not voluntary. For example, you were not conscious.
  • The victim suffered no injuries or property damage.
  • You feared for your safety.
  • You left the scene to find help for yourself or the victim.
  • The vehicle involved was stolen, or you were not behind the wheel at the time of the accident.

Remember, prosecutors may use your words against you. Therefore, do not admit fault.

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