Assemblyman Mike Gatto introduced legislation today to help curb the epidemic of hit-and-run offenses in Southern California. Currently, motorists who flee the scene of an accident can simply ”run down the clock” to avoid any liability whatsoever. If a motorist is not identified (which is often very difficult) within three years, the motorist cannot be prosecuted. Gatto’s bill extends the statute of limitations for such offenses to three years from the date of the offense, or one year after the suspect is identified by law enforcement, whichever is later. The Legislature has passed similar changes to statutes of limitations for crimes with hard-to-identify perpetrators, like clergy abuse.
Eric Bruins, Planning & Policy Director for the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition, noted that bicyclists and pedestrians are particularly vulnerable to hit-and-run collisions that result in death or serious bodily injury. “It’s hard for us to encourage people to bike and walk when our streets are treated like the Wild West,” said Bruins. “The LA County Bicycle Coalition commends Assemblyman Gatto for bringing attention to this issue and giving hit-and-run victims hope that their perpetrators might be brought to justice once identified.”
“Many hit-and-run victims suffer very serious injuries, often because they are unable to dial 9-1-1, and, of course, because the person fleeing the scene does not. Allowing hit-and-run criminals to avoid prosecution just adds insult to these injuries,” said Gatto.
An investigation by the LA Weekly found about 20,000 hit-and-run crashes are recorded annually by the Los Angeles Police Department. These 20,000 incidents made up an astonishing 48 percent of all vehicle crashes in 2009, compared to an average rate of just 11 percent nationwide. State data shows that 4,000 hit-and-run incidents a year in Los Angeles lead to injury or death. Unfortunately, most of these incidents are never prosecuted, in part, because of the statute of limitations running out.
“This is a relatively easy and sensible fix to the law, so that people who would otherwise hit-and-run realize that they will be prosecuted, no matter how long it takes.”