Assemblyman Mike Gatto

SACRAMENTO, Calif. /California Newswire/ — It was a close call, says Assemblyman Mike Gatto (D-Glendale). After surviving a “no” recommendation from the chair and some strong lobbying efforts against AB 8, the Calif. Senate Transportation and Housing Committee passed legislation to reduce the number of hit-and-runs on an 11-0 vote. The legislation by Gatto will institute the “Yellow Alert” system, allowing law-enforcement officials to engage drivers in helping identify and apprehend hit-and-run drivers.

The bill was able to pass after pedestrian, cyclist, and street-safety groups statewide rose up and let the committee members hear about how important the bill is to apprehend suspects who commit hit-and-run crimes. The committee also heard tearful testimony from Julie Creed, whose son was badly injured in a hit and run, only to lose his friend in a separate hit-and-run incident just months later.

The bill will permit law-enforcement officers to use the state’s existing network of freeway signs to broadcast information about vehicles suspected in hit-and-run incidents. Alerts will be issued by local law-enforcement when there is a sufficient description of the offending vehicle or the identity of the suspect is known. However, this “Yellow Alert” system will be limited to the area where the hit-and-run crime occurred and will only be used when the hit-and-run results in death or serious bodily injury. The legislation will also give California Highway Patrol (CHP) the ability to prioritize the alerts if they happen to occur on the same day.

When Denver created a similar alert system in 2012, they saw a 76% arrest rate in cases where the alert was activated, compared to a previous arrest rate of around 20%. The success of the program prompted Colorado’s legislature to implement the program statewide.

“It’s gotten to the point to where not a single week goes by without seeing another hit-and-run tragedy occurring,” said Gatto. “People flee because they know there’s little chance that they’ll be caught.”

Hit-and-run accidents are becoming so out of hand that local officials and community members are starting to take action themselves. Los Angeles City officials are now offering a $50,000 standing reward for information in hit-and-run cases, and the mother of a hit-and-run victim in Orange County has petitioned every city in that county to create a hit-and-run alert system.

L.A. Weekly reported that, in 2009, 48% of collisions in Los Angeles were hit-and-run incidents and USA TODAY called Los Angeles “ground zero” for hit-and-run incidents. The Los Angeles Police Department reported that 80% of all hit-and-run crimes were unsolved from 2008 to 2012. However, the problem goes beyond the Greater Los Angeles Area. An article by the East Bay Express revealed that in 2014, only 3% of hit-and-run crimes in Oakland involving bodily injury led to charges being filed.

“California has the existing alert infrastructure in place and it costs us next to nothing to use it,” said Gatto. “I have no doubt the Yellow Alert System would help apprehend criminals and have them brought to justice.”

In 2013, Gatto authored AB 184, which doubled the statute of limitations to prosecute hit-and-run drivers. In 2014, he authored AB 47 and AB 1532, the latter of which would require mandatory license suspension for anyone convicted of a hit-and-run involving a person. Despite the bipartisan support and narrowly tailored language of AB 47, Governor Brown vetoed the bill last September.

Mike Gatto is the Chairman of the Consumer Protection and Privacy Committee, and the longest-serving member in the State Assembly. He represents California’s 43rd Assembly District, which includes Burbank, Glendale, La Cañada Flintridge, La Crescenta, Montrose, and the Los Angeles neighborhoods of Atwater Village, East Hollywood, Franklin Hills, Hollywood Hills, Los Feliz, and Silver Lake.