Assemblyman Mike Gatto’s message to the Assembly Public Safety Committee was direct and to the point on Tuesday, “If you hit someone with your vehicle, you must stop. If you don’t, you should lose your license.” The committee agreed, passing Gatto’s legislation to increase penalties for those who flee the scene of an accident by a vote of 7-0.
Gatto’s bill, AB 1532, would expand hit-and-run penalties to include automatic license suspension for motorists who flee the scene of any accident involving another person, even if the victim’s injuries are minor. Right now, there are few consequences for hit-and-run offenders whose victims are lucky enough to walk away with only minor injuries. The problem with current law is that it sets the penalty based on how bad the victim’s injuries end up being, and there is no way to know that at the moment of impact.
“The only way to know if you hurt someone is to stop. The only way to get someone medical help is to stop,” said Assemblyman Gatto. “Allowing drivers who don’t stop to keep their license, adds insult to their victim’s injuries.”
Eric Bruins, Planning and Policy Director for the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition, noted that bicyclists and pedestrians are particularly vulnerable to hit-and-run collisions. “Anyone who flees the scene of an accident has demonstrated in the most cowardly way possible that they do not have the judgment necessary to keep their driving privileges,” said Bruins.
Assemblyman Gatto has spent the past two years championing legislative efforts to address the epidemic of hit-and-runs in Los Angeles County and across California. Last year, Gatto authored AB 184, which extended the statute of limitations to prosecute hit-and-run drivers. He has also supported local movements to raise awareness of the hit-and-run epidemic, including Finish the Ride, an charity ride created by Damian Kevitt, the survivor of a brutal hit-and-run in Gatto’s district last year.
The Los Angeles Police Department records 20,000 hit-and-run crashes are recorded annually. And State data shows that 4,000 hit-and-run incidents a year in Los Angeles lead to injury or death.
“AB 1532 will give victims of hit-and-runs some solace, knowing that cowards who drive recklessly, and purposefully avoid responsibility for their actions, can no longer drive the streets,” said Gatto. “This is a sensible fix to the law that will lead people to think twice before leaving the scene of an accident.”
Audio of the committee hearing is available at http://youtu.be/pOhgOgRS9Ro.