CA Bills to Crack Down on Hit-and-Run Drivers Sail Through Committees

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 vote. A.B. 1532Gatto’s other bill which increases fines and penalties for hit-and-run drivers, passed a separate committee.

Assemblymember Mike Gatto looks on as Damian Kevitt testifies to the Senate Public Safety Committee. Image: CA Senate

The bill has seen a torrent of support from a broad range of constituents, including bicycle and pedestrian advocates and public safety workers. Its next stop is the Senate Appropriations Committee.

At the hearing, Gatto testified that the bill specifies certain criteria that would have to be met before authorities could use the system, to allay concerns that it would be overused. A hit-and-run crash would have to involve a fatality or serious bodily injury, and officials would need at least partial plate numbers and a description of the vehicle.

“We have an apprehension rate in this state of 20 percent,” said Gatto, “so 80 percent of hit-and-run perpetrators never get caught. The city of Denver created a similar system in 2012; at the time they also had a twenty percent apprehension rate, and now they have a 76 percent rate of apprehension.”

“This is a smart way to make sure we can catch the people who commit the most heinous and cowardly accidents on the road with a deadly weapon—because vehicles are deadly weapons,” he said.

Damian Kevitt, a hit-and-run victim who now leads the “Finish the Ride” movement in Southern California, urged Senators to vote for the bill. He described the gruesome crash that left him for dead on the freeway a year ago, and called his recovery a “testimony to modern medicine.”

“Not only will this bill increase the percentage of people who will get caught,” he said, “but just having a single person’s name up in lights for everyone to see across the entire county is itself a deterring factor [that] can save a life and prevent [hit-and-runs] from happening in the first place.”

The same day, Gatto’s other hit-and-run bill, A.B. 1532, passed the Transportation and Housing Committee with a unanimous vote. That bill raises fines and automatically suspends a driver’s license if a driver leaves the scene of a crash, even if no one is injured.

Both bills are now in the Senate Appropriations Committee, where they must be voted on by August 15 before moving to the Senate floor. Both bills were already passed in the Assembly. No hearings have been scheduled yet for either legislation.