- August 13, 2015
- By Raine Devries
What happens when the Governor of California vetoes a bill that could possibly reduce the high number of unsolved hit-and-run cases that devastate the lives of thousands each year?
Well, the assembly members get back to work and push the YELLOW Alert Bill right back through for another visit because the situation is truly that important to all citizens: motorcyclists, pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorists alike.
The hit-and-run statistics are staggering statewide when the research pieces start being placed together. California Assemblyman Mike Gatto of the 43rd District drafted legislation currently known as Assembly Bill (AB) 8 that could quite possibly begin to put a dent into these escalating numbers.
Just how high are these hit-and-run numbers?
According to an L.A. Weekly article written in December 2013, there were 20,000 hit-and-run incidents logged by the Los Angeles Police Department in one year. In the U.S., the general number of vehicle collisions that are classified hit-and-runs averages around 11 percent. However, in LA which has a population of approximately 3.8 million, a whopping 48 percent of all collisions are hit-and-runs. The article quoted Jeri Dye Lynch who said, “It’s like a war zone out there. But there’s nobody there to help,” in reference to her 16-year-old son Conor who was killed by a hit-and-run driver who was never found.
As recent as May 19th of this year, Commissioner J.A. Farrow of the Department of California Highway Patrol wrote to Gatto informing him that CHP would oppose the pending legislation due to the following reason: “The alerts proposed in your legislation would significantly increase the total number of alerts displayed on highway Changeable Message Signs (CMS). We believe this will decrease the effectiveness of California’s AMBER Alert System.” He goes on to write, “AMBER Alerts rely on CMS to involve the motoring public, to the greatest extent possible as quickly as possible, in the search for a suspect, child, and/or suspect vehicle.”
Santa Monica Police Department officer Jason Olson told the L.A. Weekly that the initial hours and days after a hit-and-run are the most crucial. “Scenes can change very quickly,” said Olson as hit-and-runners often patch up incriminating car damage as soon as possible.
Too frequently, law enforcement personnel hasn’t viewed hit-and-runs as a crime of the same magnitude as ‘crimes against a person’ such as a homicide. And, the best way of escalating a hit-and-run is if the victim is a fatality rather than being severely injured with shattered legs, collapsed lungs, and a broken jaw such as what happened to one victim, Marie Hardwick who had the right of way in a Los Angeles crosswalk.
By utilizing the CMS boards for the YELLOW Alert System, law enforcement could activate them in mere moments on a regional level to issue messages to the motoring public detailing license plate information as well as description of driver and car to help apprehend a suspect when a hit-and -run accident has occurred that results in a fatality or serious injury.
“It would make sense to institute the hit and run alert on a trial basis for serious injuries and fatalities to determine its effectiveness,” said attorney Chuck Koro. “Also, it would be helpful to determine if the additional alerts have a diluting effect on the Amber alerts if there is a practical way to accomplish that.”
AB 8 will head into hearing on August 17 and the last date for the committee to vote will be August 28.
California ABATE is an organization that protects motorcyclist’s rights and has been actively engaged with AB 8 as it has worked through the system. When asked if any further challenges appear on the horizon, ABATE lobbyist James Lombardo said, “I think this is it and all the amendments are in. A law similar to this was first enacted in Denver with great success and we will be working to achieve similar results here in California.”
In the period of time that the Denver law was used – before expanding to the entire state of Colorado – 13 of 17 hit-and-runs that triggered the Medina Alert were solved – a nearly 78 percent success rate. The Medina Alert was created in honor of valet Jose Medina who was killed by a hit-and-run driver just days before his wedding.
If AB 8 passes, and Governor Brown signs it into legislation, it will initially be for a trial period. “The law would take effect on January 1, 2016,” said communications director Eric Menjivar of Assemblyman Gatto’s district. “The bill has a ‘sunset clause’ of January 1, 2019; this means the bill will either elapse at that time or the Assembly could extend it or make it permanent before that date.”
“Aside from the criminal aspect of a hit and run, potential victims (motorcyclists) can protect themselves by purchasing uninsured/underinsured insurance coverage on their vehicles, which would cover them if they sustain injuries caused by an at-fault hit and run driver,” said Koro. “We recommend a minimum of $100, 000 to $250,000.”
Help from the public is still needed and the most effective way for people to show their support of AB 8 is to email their comments to Governor Brown directly at: [email protected] before August 17.