It’s frightening to see an increase in the number of hit-and-run incidents that are occurring on our roadways. The area news reports are full of reports of drivers fleeing the scenes of accidents.
It’s troubling that anyone could strike anything with their vehicle and not stop to report it. And it’s disturbing that anyone could knowingly strike someone with their vehicle and not stop to render aid or call for help.
Reasons for fleeing, after knowingly committing the crime, usually include one or all of the following: the driver didn’t have insurance; the driver had prior convictions for a similar crime; the driver was distracted by a person, phone or other electronic device; or the driver was under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Sometimes the excuse is “I was scared.”
Back in September of this year, a law increasing the penalty for fatal hit-and-runs took effect. The new law boosts the maximum sentence for a fatal hit-and-run to 10 years from the current seven. The fine has been raised from up to $15,000 to up to $25,000. There is no change to the minimum sentence of one year in prison. In addition, the crime has been upgraded from a third-degree offense to a second-degree felony. The law was intended to encourage drivers involved in hit-and-run accidents to stop and help instead of fleeing.
One thing that most likely sways a driver who may be under the influence of alcohol or drugs, is that he or she could get a shorter sentence by at least two years by leaving the scene, sobering up and admitting to the crime later (based on minimum sentencing requirements). Now anyone who flees could be treated to the harsher penalty.
According to the Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing guidelines, a driver who fatally hits someone can fall into two sentencing categories: gross negligence or carelessness. Gross negligence could be driving at an excessive speed. An act of carelessness could be talking on a cell phone or being distracted by the radio which carries a mandatory $500 fine.
Gross negligence is now punishable by up to 10 years in prison. A driver under the influence who remains at the scene of a fatal accident would be punishable by a minimum of three years per victim with a maximum of 10 years in prison. Those who flee and confess later could get the same.
The new law increases the penalty for drivers involved in fatal hit-and-run accidents to match the punishment for drunk drivers. This, hopefully, will decrease the incentive to leave the scene and turn themselves over to authorities later.
There is still room for state lawmakers to close the gap between what intoxicated and sober drivers face for committing a hit-and-run. Hopefully legislators can find a way to encourage those involved in hit-and-run accidents to stay and render help instead of flee and risk causing more damage or death.
Hit-and-run; the former is an accident, the latter a crime.