California Bill Would Remove Legal Loophole for Hit-and-Run Drivers

Assemblymember Steven Bradford

California Assemblymember Steven Bradford (D-Gardena)

The California Senate is scheduled to vote on a bill next week from Assemblymember Steven Bradford (D-Gardena) that would close a loophole in state law that allows some hit-and-run perpetrators to avoid criminal prosecution.

Current law requires any driver involved in a collision that results in injury, death, or property damage to stop and provide contact information to the victim or to police at the scene of the crash. But if the driver later returns, and eventually works out a civil agreement with the victim, the court can drop misdemeanor hit-and-run charges. Bradford’s bill, A.B. 2673, would remove that option when a hit-and-run causes injury or death.

“Hit-and-run crimes are a particularly dangerous offense, and they are on the upswing,” Bradford wrote in a press release. “A person involved in an accident who refuses to even stop poses a great danger to society and they should not be able to buy their way out of facing punishment for endangering the public. Writing a check may clear a dangerous driver’s conscience, but it should not automatically clear their record.”

The bill is sponsored by the Los Angeles City Attorney, which wrote in support:

Many of the misdemeanor hit-and-run cases … filed in the LA City Attorney’s Office were resolved through the use of civil compromise. Often the consequences agreed to under civil compromise were no different than if a driver had not left the scene after a collision. Motorists that flee the scene of a traffic collision commit a crime against the public as well against the other motorist.

California Walks fully supports the bills addressing hit-and-run collisions that are currently working their way through the legislature, said Deputy Director Tony Dang. “Strengthening the consequences for hit-and-runs makes it crystal clear that driving is a privilege — one that could and should be taken away when a driver recklessly disregards a human life behind the wheel.”

Dang pointed out that pedestrians and bicyclists made up 53 percent of all fatal and severe injury hit-and-run collisions in California, according statistics from 2011. In L.A. County, the figure is 64 percent.

“This aligns with overall trends where we are seeing collisions decreasing, but the pedestrian and bicycle share of collisions is increasing,” he said. “We know that people walking and biking disproportionately face death or serious injury in hit-and-run collisions.”

Three other bills addressing hit-and-run crashes await end-of-session votes from the Senate Appropriations Committee before heading to the Senate floor.

Two of the other bills are from Assemblymember Mike Gatto (D-Los Angeles): A.B. 1532, which would raise fines for hit-and-run convictions, and A.B. 47, which would create a statewide alert system to help authorities quickly find vehicles involved in hit-and-run collisions. Assemblymember Eric Linder (R-Corona) also introduced A.B. 2337, which would extend the length of mandatory license suspensions for leaving the scene of a crash from one to two years.

In addition, Gatto’s A.B. 184 was signed into law last year, extending the statute of limitations on prosecuting hit-and-run cases to six years from three.