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.

  • Roger R.

    Six months suspended license? How about for LIFE! Driving is a privilege, not a right. If you hit someone and drive off, you lose the privilege. Period. Ride the bus. Get a bike. Walk. Wow we have a long way to go!

  • bike geography

    I am grateful for Mt. Gatto’s work on this issue. The only quibble I have with this is his use of the word “accident” in conjunction with a hit and run. I cringe at the word “accident,” because so many collisions result from negligence or lawbreaking. In that sense, they are not “accidents” in the sense of blamelessness, only in the sense that probably no one really wanted them to happen.

  • This is a good step, especially when you consider that up to now a hit and run results in no license suspension whatsoever! However, it would be even better if a six month suspension were also applied to all incidents of reckless driving. In San Francisco most DUIs (with the help of a cadre of eager lawyers) are pleaded down to wet reckless or dry reckless infractions precisely so that no license suspension is involved. This is what these drivers want to avoid at all costs. And our legal system generously cooperates! Some fines may be paid but the driver is soon happily back behind the wheel with no real inconvenience.

    Though it might be tempting to say these drivers should lose their license for life, I would be careful about making the punishment for any crime harsher than the legal system can bear to mete out. In my observation, if members of the legal system think a sanction is too harsh, then the crime will simply be overlooked, plea bargained down, waived on technicalities, and no penalty will be imposed at all. For now, just imposing a six-month suspension will be a vast improvement over what exists.

  • Shuggah21

    There are already thousands if not millions of unlicensed drivers in CA. License suspension is not that great of a punishment since it doesn’t prevent you from driving.

  • The penalty for driving without a license should be permanent impoundment of the vehicle unless said vehicle was reported stolen. That would drop driving without a license to almost zero fairly quickly.

    I agree that as it stands, there is little incentive for those with suspended licenses not to continue driving.

  • Kenny Easwaran

    Hopefully that will go down now that the state has not made visa checks essential to getting a motor vehicle operation license. Hopefully that will also enable them to get more strict about enforcing unlicensed driving, now that no one has an excuse for lack of license.

  • CamBam415

    I agree 6 months is too lienient… So long as driving away is a lighter sentence than getting deported, getting a DUI or having probation revoked, idiots will continue to drive away. How about jail time for as long as the victim is unable to work? Oh and add in full restitution for missed work/life and medical bills… Can’t pay? The city will auction off your car.

    And enforcement doesn’t matter much, since it sounds like so few are caught to begin with… Not that I have a better solution for catching people who hit & run.

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Two bills focused on addressing hit-and-run crashes, authored by CA Assemblymember Mike Gatto, appear quickly on their way to being passed. A.B. 47, which would create an alert system on California highways to help the public assist police in catching drivers involved in hit-and-run crashes, sailed through the Senate Public Safety Committee Tuesday with a 6-1 […]