Experts discuss: What kind of person commits a hit-and-run?

“What kind of person could do such an awful thing?”

It’s an obvious question, tragically posed after every hit-and-run accident.

Who could injure, or worse, kill a person and drive away?


Dr. Kristin Tolbert, a clinical and forensic psychologist based in Palm Beach Gardens, describes this kind of person as selfish .

Dr. Tolbert says years of research has split hit & run drivers into two basic categories. The first, she says, is drivers who find themselves in shock and choose to leave the scene of a crash before they can even rationalize what happened.

"The most logical, well intended person may do something that they did not think that they would ever by capable of doing," she said.

IN FOCUS: A Maryland lawmaker is working to make sure the memory of Skylar Marion becomes legacy. Marion was killed in a 2013 hit-and-run. The case is still unsolved. DETAILS AT 6 p.m.

Then, Tolbert says, there are drivers who may already be doing something unlawful - under the influence of alcohol or drugs, for instance. In a split second, they choose to try to protect their own future instead trying to stop and help someone.

"There are some people that do lack empathy, and that, and do have an interest in what affects them only," said Tolbert.

Dr. Paul Clements, a Drexel University professor and certified gang specialist, depicts a similar image or a man or who could hurt—seemingly without remorse.

“Dr. Clements said that most hit-and-run drivers are people who blame others for their behaviors,” reads an excerpt from the College of Nursing and Health Professions page on the Drexel University website.”  He believes that hit-and-run drivers suffer from a lack of good moral judgment that should have been instilled when they were younger, adding that hit-and-run drivers often downplay the severity of the situation to rationalize leaving.

“A lot of the people who are doing these kinds of things have some sort of personality issues,” he said.

Attorneys like John Demas of Sacramento, Calif—statistically the worst state for hit-and-run accidents, paints a much simpler view of those guilty of hit-and-runs. He said they’re sometimes impaired by alcohol, or running to protect an already tarnished criminal record, or the driver is just plain immature. Read Demas’s thoughts here .

Clinical psychologists in recent years have been able to diagnose a form of obsessive-compulsive disorder linked to the fear of committing a hit-and-rung accident. The symptoms associated with this disorder could actually increase a drivers’ misfortune of committing  the very crime they’re afraid of.

Dr. Steven Seay, a licensed psychologist, notes :

Hit-and-run OCD resembles other forms of checking OCD.  Just as checking a stove is used to prevent fire, checking for accidents while driving is a way of preventing (or reducing the severity of) accidental injury or death.  A common form of checking is driving back along the same route in order to scan for victims.

Unfortunately for sufferers, this compulsion actually creates yet another opportunity for having caused an accidental death or injury.  Despite driving along the same road multiple times, the potential for having missed something remains.  Relentless OCD doubt and uncertainty persist.  Many individuals get stuck in checking loops that span many minutes or hours until exhaustion and/or distress make further checking impossible.

Every time a person with this disorder hits a pot hole for instance, they believe they may have struck someone with their car. Take a look at the harrowing list of debilitating rituals people with hit-and-run OCD suffer here .


Some information in this story was provided via an article by WPTV, the E.W. Scripps affiliate in West Palm Beach. Read the report in full here .

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