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CHP Opposes Gatto’s Yellow Alert for Hit-and-Run Legislation

Earlier this week, news slowly leaked out that the California Highway Patrol (CHP) was opposing Assembly Bill 8, legislation by Asm. Mike Gatto that would create a "yellow alert" system after deadly hit-and-run crashes. The system would use electronic road signs and the emergency alert system to notify people when a deadly hit-and-run crash occurred to help apprehend suspects. A similar system has proven effective in Colorado.

Assemblymember Mike Gatto speaking on the importance of reducing hit-and-run crimes.
Assemblymember Mike Gatto speaking on the importance of reducing hit-and-run crimes. Behind Gatto are, left to right, LACBC's Eric Bruins, two LAPD representatives, L.A. Councilmember Mitch Englander, and Finish the Ride's Damian Kevitt. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.
Assemblymember Mike Gatto speaking on the importance of reducing hit-and-run crimes.

If you can't see the embed of the CHP's letter of opposition, you can read it here (PDF).

The California Highway Patrol gives three reasons for its opposition. The first is that there will be too many alerts added to a system that already broadcasts alerts for abducted children, missing seniors or mentally disabled people, and information about other dangerous criminals. The second is that, because of legislation allowing undocumented immigrants to earn driver's licenses, there is no need for the system. The third is that adding a fourth kind of alert would confuse the system, as there is no way to prioritize the messages, should multiple alerts be out at the same time.

As one would expect, Gatto doesn't agree with the CHP's evaluation.

“We are currently working with CHP to discuss the complexity of the hit-and-run epidemic in California.  To be clear, use of the Yellow Alert system would be limited to the general vicinity of where the hit-and-run resulting in serious bodily injury or death occurred," writes Gatto in a statement to Streetsblog.

"The current alert system in our state is not overburdened as evidenced by its use to display messages urging Californians to “buckle up” or “conserve water” during the drought.

To address concerns regarding the prioritization of alerts -- we plan on taking a friendly amendment to clarify CHP’s ability to prioritize the alerts if they happen to occur on the same day.  I would also like to point out that California does not broadcast the Silver Alert on our changeable message signs."

The expectation that AB 60 will lead to a drop in hit-and-runs because more drivers will be licensed actually undercuts the other arguments. Yes, creating safer roads through more universal licensing was a goal of AB 60. But the hit-and-run crisis cannot be reduced to an immigration issue. And even the CHP seems unconvinced of their own position, arguing, in essence, that there would be too many alerts and it would clog the system, not enough alerts to justify an addition to the system, and too many alerts and it would confuse the system in just three paragraphs.

"The CHP wants it both ways," writes Jim Brown with Sacramento Area Bike Advocates. "They say AB 8 might create too many alerts. Then they turn around and say that giving driver's licenses to undocumented drivers could reduce the incidence hit-and-runs to the point that alerts aren't really necessary."

Gatto agrees with Brown's assessment.

"Although it is possible that AB 60 would reduce traffic collisions and hit-and-runs by previously unlicensed drivers, it is unfair to suggest that the overwhelming majority of hit-and-runs are caused by a particular group of individuals without any supporting data," Gatto continues.

Meanwhile, the Senate Transportation & Housing Committee staff questions the value of alerts because drivers can flee a collision unidentified.

"Sometimes that's true," SABA's Brown concedes. "...but in two of the four hit-and-runs around Sacramento in the past three months, witnesses provided a basic description of the cars. In one case, the police went to the news media to ask the public to help search for the car -- which is exactly what the AB 8 alerts would do in every case."

Politicians are prone to put a lot of weight into the opinions of law enforcement even when the arguments don't hold weight. After sailing through both houses last year before heading into a Governor's veto, the "yellow alert" system again flew through the Assembly with no votes in opposition, either in committee or the full Assembly.

However, with the legislation scheduled before the Senate Transportation Committee, Chair Jim Beall is urging members to vote "no" on this legislation. Gatto's office is hoping that safe street advocates will contact the other members of the committee to urge them to think for themselves about this piece of legislation. The Assemblymember's office provided this helpful roster of the committee and the relevant contact information (PDF). SABA also has an action alert out, that can be found here.

While the CHP's opposition is unsurprising, it could give the cover to Governor Jerry Brown to veto the legislation despite its popular bi-partisan support. After all, it was the opposition by the CHP and Caltrans that led to vetoes of the common-sense safe passing laws for years until it was watered down. CHP also opposed efforts to give more local control to jurisdictions to control traffic speeds on local streets.

"I look forward to continuing this conversation with CHP and finding common ground on this important piece of legislation," ended Gatto. "After all, it is their investigations that stand to benefit from the proposed Yellow Alert system."

A hearing date has not been set for AB 8 by the Senate Transportation Committee. When it does, Streetsblog California will let you know.

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