The city of Los Angeles is struggling to get a handle on the more than 20,000 hit and run (H&R) collisions that that took place last year, a trend that has continued well into 2013 as well. The situation is so bad that it can be considered an epidemic of sorts. Of those 20,000 collisions, according to the Los Angeles Weekly, about 4,000 resulted in injuries or deaths. Needless to say, Los Angeles city leaders, the police and the community as a whole are looking for ways to reduce the number of H&R collisions because of the amount of human suffering and monetary impacts. Keep in mind that many of the severe injury H&R cases involve bicyclists, pedestrians and motorcyclists.
During 2012 in Ceres, there were 118 H&R collisions, of which, 11 involved injuries. Fortunately there were no related fatalities in Ceres in 2012. Our numbers seem insignificant in comparison to Los Angeles, but on a per capita basis, we too have nothing to be proud of when it comes to these kinds of incidents. And when it comes to H&R statistics, we do not know the exact number because many of them go unreported, especially in instances when the damage or injuries are minor.
The underlying reasons for H&R incidents are many. Motorists who are unlicensed (in particular), those with licenses that are suspended or revoked, intoxicated motorists, people without insurance, persons with arrest warrants and criminals driving stolen cars are the main reasons. There is also the perception that especially in densely populated cities like Los Angeles; the chance of getting caught is slim, therefore making it an attractive gamble to try to get away with it. It is obvious that unlicensed drivers are major contributors to H&R collisions, and at the same time they are responsible for 27 percent of fatal collisions in California whether the driver left the scene or not. Clearly, that there are so many unlicensed drivers in California is causing a significant amount of economic and physical harm to the public.
Another contributor to the H&R problem is that persons caught and convicted for the misdemeanor version of H&R often spend little or no time in jail. This is owing to limited jail space and the fact that the criminal justice system has been significantly constrained through budget reductions. A property damage-only hit and run case is generally a misdemeanor crime, but when people are injured or killed, the incident rises to the felony level.
Unlike most other crimes, H&R cases usually have numerous witnesses because there are usually many other motorists sharing the road. In theory, because of the many potential witnesses, this should lead to a higher arrest rate for those incidents than for other crimes. That is not the case, however. It seems that people are either choosing to not get involved or are not paying attention. If motorists can change their mindsets and start actively working with the police to identify these violators, it is bound to have an impact in reducing the number of H&R cases. If potential H&R suspects know that they will most likely be identified for their crimes, they will be much less likely to leave a vehicle crash scene without providing all information as required by law.
Most all of us have cell and smart phones with picture-taking capabilities. Using these devices can make a huge difference to capture suspect images, vehicle damage, vehicle license plates and the like. A prompt phone call to the police, including sharing any observation that indicates a suspect is getting ready to leave the scene will be very helpful to the police.
The area we live in has little in common with Los Angeles, but we need to be alert to the fact that what is happening down there will probably migrate northward to where we live and work. This is not to say that the 118 H&R cases in Ceres are acceptable, but it could be far worse if the Los Angeles problems end up here. I believe that the community working with the police can keep the problem from growing through prompt reporting and accurate witness information that is provided on a timely basis. The police, for their part, will rigorously investigate these cases and also continue to enforce the law that requires motorists to be licensed and insured.