It is too common a story. A family is crossing the street or some friends are bicycling along when a negligent car driver changes their lives forever. While the victims lie wounded in the street, the driver flees and is never heard from again. Advocates for safe streets, victims of hit-and-run crashes, and their friends and family say that there are not enough resources or legal protections for victims.
One California Assemblymember has vowed to change that.
Assembly Bill 47, a heavily amended version of legislation re-introduced this week by Assemblymember Mike Gatto (D-LA), would create a statewide “yellow alert system” modeled after the Medina Alert system, which was created in Denver but is now a statewide program in Colorado.
The system would require that Caltrans and other highway owners use electronic signage, radio, and other available media to broadcast information about vehicles suspected in hit-and-run crashes. Unlike alerts issued over TV news, the yellow alerts would enlist drivers and other road users to spot hit- and-run drivers right away.
Basically, the bill would create an “Amber Alert” system similar to what is used when a child is kidnapped to help catch hit-and-run drivers.
“These are crimes which, by their nature, occur at a high rate of speed and with clear means for fleeing the scene,” said Gatto. “The public is almost always needed to catch those who leave fellow citizens dying on the side of the road, and AB 47 will allow us to do so promptly, before the perpetrator can get away and cover up the evidence.”
Last year, Gatto authored AB 184, which doubled the statute of limitations on prosecuting hit-and-run drivers. This year, he also introduced AB 1532, which would require mandatory license suspension for anyone convicted of a hit-and-run involving another person.
In Denver, Of 13 of the 17 cases that have prompted Medina Alerts have been solved, an incredible 76 percent success rate. With California’s population of nearly 40 million, the “yellow alerts” could result in the arrests of thousands of deadly drivers. Nationwide, less than half of hit-and-run perpetrators are apprehended.
“With this new bill, Assemblymember Gatto has again proven himself a champion of hit-and-run victims,” writers Eric Bruins of the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition, who helped Gatto draft the legislation.
“It’s not enough to penalize the minority of perpetrators that are actually caught; we need to make sure that those that maim or kill and try to flee don’t have a chance to get away with it. Using the existing Amber Alert system to catch hit-and-run drivers is a sensible way to bring more criminals to justice.”
Damian Kevitt, a survivor of a particularly gruesome hit-and-run crash in 2013, has become something of a folk hero on street safety issues. Kevitt recently led an event called “Finish the Ride” that literally finished the bike ride he started before he was struck by a car that fled on the I-5 freeway. Money raised from Finish the Ride was split between the LACBC and a nonprofit that helps the survivors of amputations.
A.B. 47 “will be the biggest step forward on the subject of traffic safety in decades,” Kevitt writes. “Now that LA City Council is officially supporting it, the time is right to strike and implement this simple solution that goes far in changing the playing field on hit-and-run crimes.”
“With so many hit-and-runs occurring daily and roughly 80-90 percent of the people never getting caught,” he added, “A.B. 47 will not only give law enforcement a much needed tool in finding those criminals who run from the scene of an accident, but more importantly, it will ensure that everyone knows if you hit someone and don’t stop, you’re going to have your name up in lights… literally!”
A.B. 47 will be heard by the Senate Committee on Public Safety on Tuesday, June 24. Due to public comment rules, comments are due by Wednesday, June 18. You can make a comment by sending an email to the committee here.