Calif. hit-and-run alert system signed into law

Posted at 7:32 PM, Sep 29, 2015
and last updated 2015-09-29 22:32:34-04

A Los Angeles area assemblyman said a bill signed Monday by Gov. Jerry Brown to create a public alert system aimed at tracking down hit-and-run drivers will make streets safer statewide.

AB 8 calls for "yellow alerts" showing details about a fleeing vehicle -- such as color, make, model and license plate number -- to be displayed on digital freeway and street signs. Such alerts are already used during kidnappings.

"We're just ecstatic," Assemblyman Mike Gatto told City News Service Monday afternoon, about 10 minutes after receiving the news from the governor's staff.

"This will make our streets much more safe, will help a lot of grieving families get justice," he said.

Gatto held a news conference outside Los Angeles City Hall earlier Monday to urge Brown to "do the right thing" and sign the bill, which is set to go into effect on Jan. 1.

Brown vetoed a similar bill last year, explaining to Gatto that he had concerns it would overburden the existing alert system. The governor had until Oct. 11 to decide whether to sign or veto the latest bill.

"I don't think the system is too burdened," Gatto said Monday, noting that freeway signs are being used to urge drivers statewide to conserve water amid an historic drought.

"We shouldn't have to put up $50,000 rewards to try to catch somebody. We shouldn't have to flier our neighborhoods," Gatto said. "We should give law enforcement tools to try to catch somebody by crowdsourcing it, if you will."

Gatto added his bill is "narrowly tailored" to ensure alerts are only sent out in areas near where the incidents occur and only if the collision resulted in serious injury or death.

"I was hit from behind by a car, but all I remember doing was hitting the pavement," said Carol Lord.

Lord now sits with a cast after doctors re-attached her foot. The injuries are severe after a car slammed into her while riding a bike on Clairemont Drive then took off.

"They took the weekend to find what type of car that was," she said.

Lord said she wishes any little bit of information could've been broadcast sooner. The new law could make that happen if there's a good enough description.

In Lord's case, that car was taken to a collision repair shop. The driver told them he hit a pole.

"If that word had gone out right away, they might have found the car before it even made it to the center because people would be on the lookout for the car," said Lord.

Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition Executive Director Tamika Butler, who joined Gatto in urging the Brown to sign the bill, said 150 people die each year due to hit-and-runs.

She noted a fatal hit-and-run in Highland Park earlier this month. Butler said she was eating dinner with friends in the area when she heard a crash, then saw a driver flee the scene.

The victim, Yolanda Lugo, died about a week later, while "we are still looking for the perpetrator of this crime," Butler said. "The Assembly member is doing his part and now, we just ask the governor, please sign the bill and show all vulnerable users of the streets that the streets also belong to them."

The Los Angeles City Council earlier this year approved standing rewards ranging from $1,000 to $50,000 aimed at generating leads to capture drivers who flee traffic collisions rather than stop to potentially render aid.

The new law will cost taxpayers a one-time fee of $100,000. That money goes to the California Highway Patrol to write a policy and train its officers. The signs themselves are already built and in use for things like traffic warnings and Amber Alerts.