Tag Archive for change the law

A simple four — or maybe five — point plan to end hit-and-run in California once and for all

The news hit like a bombshell Wednesday night.

After years of ignoring the problem, the Los Angeles press discovered the city’s hit-and-run epidemic when the LA Weekly unveiled an extensive examination of what may be the city’s most common crime.

The article, by writer Simone Wilson, cites the shocking news that 48% of all L.A. collisions are hit-and-runs. Or at least, shocking to anyone who hasn’t been fighting to call attention to the problem, and trying desperately to get city officials to actually do something about it.

Although to be fair, in the meetings I’ve attended, LAPD has consistently said that roughly 33% percent of all collisions are hit-and-runs, based on COMPSTAT data. And unfortunately, the Weekly doesn’t explain where they got the higher figure.

But either way, it’s too damn high.

I won’t recap the article here. If you want the short version, you can get it from LA Streetsblog or The Atlantic Cities; if there’s any justice at all, it will soon be picked up by the larger mainstream press.

Or better yet, click the link in the second paragraph and read the full article yourself. And try to retain the contents of your stomach when you do.

The question is what can we do about it.

Most of the efforts by advocates working to do something about the problem have focused on addressing it after the fact.

Like raising the profile of the crime to put it on equal footing with other violent crimes. And increasing the number of officers assigned to investigate hit-and-run collisions — particularly those involving serious injury. Which won’t be easy given that the department is desperately trying to avoid further budget and staffing cutbacks.

Meanwhile, others, such as the recent Life Before License campaign, have focused on ensuring that drivers who aren’t willing to observe the most basic requirement to remain at the scene of a collision will have their driver’s licenses suspended — something that has failed to happen in a shocking number of cases.

Which sends a clear message just how seriously our courts don’t take traffic crimes.

All of these efforts are important, and deserve our support.

On the other hand, I’d rather stop hit-and-runs before they occur by changing state law to remove the incentive to flee. And making the cost for running away so steep that no one in his or her right mind would think it’s worth the risk.

Long-time readers may recall that I’ve advocated a three-point plan to do just that. And recently added a fourth to address the heartless bastards who leave their victims to die on the street.

1. One of the most common reasons people take off following a collision is that they’ve been drinking or are otherwise under the influence of something. Yet current state law actually encourages drivers to flee by making the penalty for hit-and-run less onerous than the penalty for DUI. So we should start by removing that incentive, as Colorado did at the urging of cyclists, by making the penalties for hit-and-run equal to the penalties for DUI.

However, given California’s current prison overcrowding, it’s highly unlikely that anyone convicted under a toughened law would serve their full sentence. So I suggest we take it further.

2. Anyone who leaves the scene of a collision should have their license automatically revoked — not suspended — by the DMV. By committing the crime of hit-and-run, they’ve shown a callous indifference to both the law and the lives and safety of others, and are undeserving of the privilege of driving. By making this an administrative action, it can be taken regardless of whether the driver is ever charged or convicted. The driver would have to go before an administrative judge to request the right to apply for a new license — and should face a higher standard to get it.

3. Hit-and-run is the only crime where the criminal is allowed to keep the weapon he or she used, even after a conviction; after all, bank robbers aren’t given back the gun they used. Any car used to commit a hit-and-run should be impounded as evidence until a decision is made on whether to file charges or until the trial is concluded. If the driver is convicted, the vehicle should be seized by the state and sold, with the proceeds going to the victim. After all, the state can already seize cars used in drug crimes or to solicit prostitutes; isn’t running away after killing or injuring another human being just a little more serious than trolling for a blowjob?

And I guarantee people will think twice about running away if they have to continue making payments on a car they don’t own anymore.

As I mentioned, I’ve recently added a fourth item to this list, after one too many cases in which a hit-and-run driver has left their victim to die on the streets — yet authorities can’t manage to find anything to charge the driver with that’s in any way commensurate to crime.

4. The greatest tragedy in any fatal hit-and-run is that in many cases, the victim might have been saved with prompt emergency care. But instead of calling for help, the drivers run off, leaving their victims to suffer and die alone, when they might otherwise have been saved. So prosecutors should be encouraged — if not required — to file unpremeditated degree murder charges in any case where there’s even the slightest possibility the victim might have survived if they’d gotten help.

It’s a tough approach. And quite frankly, despite discussions with a few state legislators, I’ve yet to find one willing to take up the fight.

They’d rather pretend the problem doesn’t exist. Or that nothing can be done about it, while countless cyclists, pedestrians and motorists continue to bleed.

Or die.

Then there’s one other element that should be considered.

Every police officer with whom I’ve discussed the problem of hit-and-run, without exception, has said there are two primary reason drivers flee. First, because they may be intoxicated, or second, because the drivers may be undocumented, with no license or insurance.

Of course, there’s also a third, somewhat smaller category. Some people are just gutless assholes who refuse to take responsibility for their actions.

But until we allow all residents of the state — whether or not they are here legally — to apply for a license and buy the insurance required by law for all drivers, we will continue to give them a reason to run away.

It doesn’t mean we are legitimizing their status; the state does not have the power to do that.

It just means that we recognize the problem.

And it’s long past time we did something about it.

Update: Since this piece was written, California has approved driver’s licenses for people in the country without valid documentation. 

So that’s one down, four to go.

A jerk driver nearly takes off a cyclist’s arm, and shows the need to change the law

The other night, I watched from behind as a cyclist did everything right. And still was nearly run down by an impatient driver.

I’d already watched as the driver of a Porsche run a red light at Ohio and Veteran, making his right turn without stopping — or barely slowing down for that matter — to end up heading north on Veteran directly in front of me.

He also ended up directly behind another cyclist on the narrow, parking-choked two-lane street.

The rider had already taken the lane, since there was no room for a car and a bike to safely share a lane. Then he put out his left hand to indicate a turn into a driveway — only to find the Porsche already whipping past on his left, on the wrong side of the road, nearly taking his arm off in the process.

Not surprisingly, that hand quickly moved up from its leftward extension into a single-fingered wave in the rapidly disappearing car’s rearview mirror. And couldn’t blame him in the slightest; in fact, it seemed like a rather restrained gesture under the circumstances.

As usual, there was nothing that could be done about it. The driver was long gone before there was any possibility of getting a license number.

And even if either of us had managed to, there would have been absolutely nothing the police could have done. State law bans them from writing tickets or making an arrest for a misdemeanor — which this would have been, given the lack of injury — unless they actually witness the infraction.

Even though they likely would have had at least two witnesses willing to testify.

Like the 85th percentile speed law, which forces cities to raise speed limits to the level dictated by speeding drivers, it’s a bad law. One originally intended to protect motorists from police abuse, but which actually serves to keep dangerous drivers on the street.

And jeopardize everyone else around them.

Then again, jerks like that sometimes get what they deserve; thanks to Rex Reese for the link.


I had to miss Will Campbell’s Watts Happening Ride last weekend.

I’ve found the key to a happy marriage is spending my weekends home with my wife and dog, even when there are other things I’d like to be doing. Like riding my bike while I learned about one of L.A.’s most fascinating and sadly neglected neighborhoods.

Fortunately, Will offers a timelapse recap for those of us who couldn’t be there.


It shouldn’t surprise anyone that L.A. has lessons to learn from cities near and far. Work has started on the new Sunset Triangle Plaza at the former intersection of Sunset and Griffith Park Blvds. Riverside police shoot a bike riding fugitive. Frank Peters offers a very nice look at his son getting a driver’s license and demonstrating his skills by safely passing a cyclist; definitely worth reading. Family and friends remember the 17-year old cyclist killed last week after riding through a red light. A San Diego professor argues that federal transportation policy can affect public health. A San Diego mayoral candidate wants to make it the nation’s most innovative city — and yes, he supports cycling, even if he is a Republican, Traffic fatalities in Ventura County nearly doubled last year, while cycling fatalities went from zero in 2010 to four in 2011. Lake Tahoe may soon be ringed with bike paths. The author of Boston’s Lovely Bicycle will be riding through Death Valley this March.

Lots of presidents have ridden bikes, dating all the way back to Lincoln, sort of. An interview with bike lawyer and former competitive cyclist Bob Mionske. The rate of Seattle bike crashes hold steady even as ridership rises. The makers of Fat Tire beer team with a local bike trailer maker to help a Boulder food rescue feed the hungry. The rich get richer, as Colorado is building a 63-mile off-road bikeway from Glenwood Canyon to Vail Pass. A Wyoming man is facing three to seven years after pleading No Contest to killing a cyclist while under the influence. Does building a bike culture in Chicago mean things have to get worse before they get better? A Minneapolis bike and pedestrian bridge is out of commission after a cable breaks. Evidently, life is cheap in Wisconsin as a college hockey player gets just 90 days for killing a cyclist by pushing him off his bike, resulting in his death. An Indiana judge reverses a ticket after discovering that bikes aren’t legally considered vehicles in the Hoosier state. A New Jersey driver is under arrest on a charge of attempted murder after hitting a cyclist; no reasons given for the charges yet. Pennsylvania drivers now have to give cyclists a four-foot passing margin — one foot more than the law CA Governor Jerry Brown vetoed. Philadelphia police actually justify putting cyclists at risk by double parking in bike lanes. A look at newly bike-friendly New Orleans; it certainly wasn’t friendly spot to ride when I lived in Louisiana. A Georgia man sues over a dangerous bike path after his mother is killed in a head-on collision with two other riders.

A new northern terminus for the Underground Railroad Bicycle Route tracing the path taken to freedom by escaped slaves during the dark days of American history, now ends in Ontario. Nine cyclists set out from the UK on an unsupported race around the world. Britain’s Prime Minister will hear “radical” ideas for making the country’s streets safer for cyclists; the question is, will he listen? Meanwhile, more than half of all UK residents think the county’s urban areas are too dangerous for cyclists. It certainly was for a former aide-de-camp to the Queen, who was run down by a driver blinded by the sun. A UK driver gets just 18 months for deliberately running into a cyclist and fleeing the scene, leaving the rider in a coma for over six months with two broken legs, a broken arm, cracked ribs, a temporary loss of sight in one eye, and permanent brain damage; call me crazy, but the punishment doesn’t seem to fit the crime. A driver escapes jail for killing a cyclist by barely brushing him; a reminder that any contact by a careless driver can be dangerous. A look at Liverpool’s Ten Minutes of Hell underground time trial. The Belfast Telegraph says it time we learned to love the bike; some of us are already ahead of the curve. The first no-emission vehicle from Porsche has just two wheels. An Indian cyclist is probably paralyzed after a Lamborghini driver loses control at high speed, killing himself and seriously injuring the rider. Chances are your bike wasn’t actually made by the company whose name is on it.

Finally, bike haters have always suspected the bicycle was a tool of the devil; maybe they were right. Or maybe early cyclists only seemed possessed because they suffered from bicycle face. But maybe this is how we really look.

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