New Gatto Legislation Requires License Suspension for All Hit and Run Drivers

Yesterday, Assemblyman Mike Gatto introduced legislation mandating that any driver who commits a hit and run offense, even if the victim is not seriously injured, forfeit their driver’s license for six months. Gatto’s legislation is his second effort to criminalize hit and run crashes following last year’s Assembly Bill 184 which extended the statute of limitations for hit and run drivers.

“A.B. 1532 will give victims of hit-and-runs solace, knowing that cowards who drive recklessly, and purposefully avoid responsibility for their actions, are no longer driving the streets,” said Assemblyman Gatto.  “This is a sensible fix to the law that will lead people to think twice before leaving the scene of an accident.”

Gatto’s legislation adds a penalty of a six month driver’s license suspension to anyone found guilty of a misdemeanor hit and run crash. Currently, most hit and run drivers are either given a probation and fine, although law does allow for up to a six month stay in jail. This latter provision is rarely enforced.

“A driver’s license comes with a serious responsibility – one that arises from the privilege of operating a piece of machinery that can have the potential to maim or kill and thus completely ruin lives,” writes Sam Ollinger, the executive director of Bike SD. “Assembly member Gatto is showing both a willingness to pay attention to California’s needs and address a sorely needed gap that has unfortunately arisen out of our mobility needs.”

Hit and run crashes, and the seeming helplessness of the LAPD to stem the crisis level of these crashes in Los Angeles, have been a major issue in Gatto’s hometown for years. The Los Angeles Police Department records 20,000 hit-and-run crashes are recorded annually, and the L.A. Weekly considers this number a low estimate.  State data shows that 4,000 hit-and-run incidents a year in Los Angeles lead to injury or death.  2014 has already been a deadly year in Gatto’s district. A 24-year-old veterinary student was killed in a hit-and-run in Northridge just last week.

However, Gatto’s dedication towards pursuing meaningful reform of the state’s hit and run laws is bolstered by the experience of Damian Kevitt. Kevitt was riding his bicycle to Griffith Park with is wife when he was struck by a driver and dragged hundreds of feet. The driver escaped onto the 5 Freeway and has not been found.

One leg amputation later, Kevitt is back on his bicycle and working with Gatto to help make sure that hit and run crashes become less of an ongoing crisis and more of a rare occurrence.

“Legislative bills like AB1532 and Assemblyman Gatto’s previous bill AB184 are vital first steps in stemming the gross epidemic of hit and run accidents occurring,” writes Kevitt to Streetsblog. “But when you start seeing figures like 48% of all accidents are hit and run, that points to an underlying moral fabric across society that’s not just frayed at the edges, but unraveling. Legislative actions like Gatto’s must be flanked with awareness campaigns and education that work to change people’s viewpoints on what it means to be a responsible driver or citizen.”

Kevitt is working with Gatto, the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition (LACBC), City Councilmember Tom LaBonge to program “Finish the Ride” on April 27. Finish the Ride will pick up where Kevitt was struck in February of last year and finish the ride to his house. While the hit and run driver who crippled him remains at large, Kevitt hasn’t let the crash slow him down. In addition to advocacy, he’s also training for the 2015 L.A. Marathon.

As one would expect, Gatto’s legislation proves popular with advocates from his home city. Eric Bruins with the LACBC writes in Gatto’s media announcement, “Stopping and rendering aid after a collision is the most basic duty of a motorist. Failing to do so can be the difference between scrapes and bruises and a serious injury or fatality.  Anyone who flees the scene of an accident has demonstrated in the most cowardly way possible that they do not have the judgment necessary to keep their driving privileges.”

His words were echoed by Deborah Murphy, the founder of Los Angeles Walks.

“Assemblymember Gatto’s leadership on our Hit and Run epidemic is to be applauded and supported by all Californians. Showing respect and responsibility on our streets is essential for a civil society and for livable and healthy communities. Drivers must take responsibility to stay at the scene of a crash or loose their license to drive a lethal weapon. Los Angeles Walks encourages the  legislature and the law enforcement agencies in California to include an educational program along with the enforcement of the new Hit and Run legislation.”

A.B. 1532 has not been assigned a committee as of this posting, but already advocates are lining up to support the measure.

“Assemblymember Gatto is one of the strongest leaders for traffic safety in Sacramento. We will work with him to make sure this passes without getting watered down,” promises Dave Snyder, the executive director of the California Bike Coalition.

Mike Gatto is the Chairman of the Appropriations Committee in the California State Assembly.  He represents Burbank, Glendale, La Cañada Flintridge, La Crescenta, Montrose, and the Los Angeles neighborhoods of Atwater Village, East Hollywood, Franklin Hills, Hollywood Hills, Los Feliz, and Silver Lake.