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Hit-and-runs with cyclists can cost drivers just $500

Friday - 7/18/2014, 4:56pm  ET

WASHINGTON - The local cyclist seriously injured by a hit-and-run driver on International Bike to School Day is recovering at home after spending two weeks in the hospital.

If the driver responsible is ever caught, the penalties he or she faces for the crash on Observatory Circle could only cost them $500. The a small price to pay for hitting bicyclists in D.C. has long concerned area cyclists.

Consequences for hit-and-run wrecks when someone is hurt vary widely locally. Among Maryland, Virginia and D.C., penalties in the District are the least severe. What D.C. law calls "leaving after colliding" can lead to penalties of six months in jail and/or a $500 fine if someone is hurt.

Virginia offenders can go to prison for one to five years. If a fine and time are combined, someone convicted of leaving the scene of a wreck in which someone is hurt can be jailed for up to 12 months and/or fined up to $2,500 in Virginia.

Maryland has the strictest penalties. Hit and run drivers in injury wrecks face up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine.

"If you're only going to fine them $500 dollars, I hate to say it, but it takes a little bit away from what a penalty truly means," says Maryland attorney Seth Okin of Okin notes that increasingly aggressive driver safety awareness campaigns in Maryland have evolved alongside legislation creating stiffer penalties.

"That started from the smallest things like seatbelts and not drinking and driving to everything in between and sharing the road safely," says Okin.

Hit-and-run drivers in D.C. who hurt someone also could face stiffer penalties than leaving an accident scene. Prosecutors in D.C. could opt for additional charges including assault with a deadly weapon, the weapon being a vehicle.

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