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The hit-and-run epidemic plaguing California cities

Here in Oakland and in many other major cities around the country, pedestrians find themselves at odds with an automobile culture. In many cases, simply crossing a heavily traveled street can literally be a fight for survival.

Pedestrian accident injury/fatality rates are already unacceptably high. Adding to this problem is another serious issue: a rise in the number of hit-and-run accidents. The rate of hit-and-run crashes has steadily increased nationwide over the past few years, and California's largest city has the unfortunate distinction of being "ground zero" for cowardly drivers who flee the scene after causing an accident.

Hit-and-run fatalities increased by 13.7 percent between 2009 and 2011 according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. It is worth noting that this increase occurred during a three-year period in which the overall rate of traffic deaths was decreasing.

Law enforcement agencies and safety advocates say that many drivers who flee the scene do so because they were already doing something illegal prior to the accident, such as driving drunk or driving without a license.

In response to this growing problem, lawmakers around the country are working to increase the penalties for hit-and-run accidents and make it easier to prosecute the offending drivers. Here in California, for instance, legislators recently passed a law that increases the statute of limitations in hit-and-run cases. When it takes effect next July, the statute of limitations will be six years instead of the current three.

Hit-and-run drivers are cowardly and irresponsible, but their offense is more significant than simply trying to avoid prosecution. The crash may have been an accident, but by fleeing the scene, the offending driver makes the choice to refuse aid to the person they just hit. One California legislator put it best when he said "it really comes down to folks being left for dead on the side of the road by the person who is in the best position to call 911."

Unfortunately, some hit-and-run drivers are never caught. But those who are may face serious criminal consequences as well as a civil lawsuit alleging personal injury or wrongful death.

Source: USA Today, "Fatal hit-and-run crashes on rise in U.S.," Larry Copeland, Nov. 10, 2013 

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