Thursday, July 05, 2012

PA's Hit and Run Loophole Mostly Closed

As reported late last year in the wake of a hit and run crash that killed Gregory Loper on Lehigh Avenue, Pennsylvania state law perversely encouraged drivers who hit and killed someone to flee the scene. This was due to the penalty for a fatal DUI being greater than the penalty for a fatal hit and run. We encouraged people to contact their state representative or senator to support HB 208, a bill written specifically to eliminate that discrepancy.

HB 208 passed in the final hours of the State legislature in Harrisburg late last week and the Governor is expected to sign it this week. The bill makes a fatal hit and run a 2nd degree felony (it is currently a 3rd degree felony as compared to a fatal DUI that incurs a 2nd degree felony). While it keeps the current mandatory minimum sentence at 1 year (the original House bill had made it a 3 year mandatory minimum), it allows for "sentencing enhancement." The sentencing enhancement makes it more likely that a defendant will receive a substantial period of jail time. In some instances, the sentencing enhancement may actually go beyond what the original bill would have provided, according to House staff in correspondence with the Bicycle Coalition.

An assistant to Representative Dave Reed (District 62), the bill's primary sponsor, gave the following explanation: "Because of the committee members' resistance to increasing mandatory minimums, this change was viewed as a reasonable compromise that would allow us to move forward on this issue. We believe that the committee amendment still addresses the issue that we had hoped to resolve - the disparate treatment of homicide while DUI and hit and run homicide. "

16% of pedestrians and 14% of cyclists killed in Pennsylvania between 2007 and 2009 were killed by hit and run. We hope this new law will reduce the incidences of hit and runs.

Breaking News! Governor Corbett signed HB 208 on July 5, 2012.