Bicyclists in Los Angeles beware. Instances of motor vehicles fleeing the scene after crashing into cyclists are way up and the drivers are almost never caught.
The Los Angeles Times crunched numbers from the California Highway Patrol and found a 42% increase in hit-and-run incidents involving bicyclists between 2002 and 2012. During that time, 5,600 cyclists were hit and 36 died. The increase was not totally unexpected.
Drivers who run into bicyclists and then flee almost always get away with the crime. The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) closed just one in five hit-and-run cases between 2008 and 2012, according to the Times. Less than half the closed cases were concluded because of an arrest.
The city has added more than 120 miles of bike paths in the last five years as riding enthusiasts have attempted to carve out a piece of the transportation system for quiet, non-polluting vehicles. Pedal political power hasn’t yet produced a grid that will support too much bike traffic, but people are increasingly using it for basic transportation.
Also not surprising, many of the hit-and-run victims are young. Although they range in age from 1 to 99, 40% are 18 or younger.
A report (pdf) from the Los Angeles Police Commission last year responded to an LA Weekly story that the city was the hit-and-run capital of the nation. The newspaper cited figures that 48% of all L.A. crashes were hit-and-runs, compared to 11% nationally.
The city acknowledges around 20,000 a year. The commission disputed those numbers as distortions that didn’t account for the city’s larger population and different ways that localities measure hit-and-runs.
The actual number, the commission said, was really 16%, four points less than Chicago and seven larger than New York. But the commission also found that drivers who struck a pedestrian or bicyclist were much more likely to flee than those that struck other vehicles. Over a five-year period, 9% of motorists who suffered severe or fatal injuries in a crash were victims of hit-and-run drivers, compared to 21% of bicyclists and 24% of pedestrians.
Governor Jerry Brown signed Assembly Bill 184 in October 2013, extending the statute of limitations for all hit-and-run crimes from one year to up to six years in some instances. The bill was authored by Assemblyman Mike Gatto (D-Los Angeles), who was unsuccessful at getting Brown to sign two other pieces of hit-and-run legislation he introduced.
Brown vetoed Assembly Bill 47, which would have allowed using the Amber Alert system to hunt down hit-and-run drivers, and Assembly Bill 1532, which would have increased penalties for the crime.