Editorial: We cannot reward drivers for fleeing accidents

06/19/2014 7:00 AM |
Police at the scene of the fatal hit and run on Route 58 near Woodcrest Avenue in July 2013. (Credit: Paul Squire, file)

Police at the scene of the fatal hit and run on Route 58 near Woodcrest Avenue in July 2013. (Credit: Paul Squire, file)

For the second time in two years, proposed increases in the penalties for hit-and-run drivers have gone down to the wire in the state Legislature.

Last year, bills designed to increase fines and sentences for those who flee the scenes of serious, sometimes fatal, accidents stalled out as the legislative session ended.

Since then, the spate of hit-and-runs, which prosecutors call an “epidemic,” has only continued. Just last week, police say, a girl with Down syndrome was struck and killed by a hit-and-run driver in Levittown.

The state’s current laws inadvertently encourage this behavior. Often, those who leave the scene of accidents might otherwise have faced charges for drunken or impaired driving. By fleeing, they avoid roadside sobriety tests and possibly more serious charges.

One proposed bill supported by North Fork Assemblyman Anthony Palumbo would create a new charge targeting people with suspended licenses or prior drunken-driving convictions who run from serious accidents to dodge the consequences. State Senator Ken LaValle has previously voted for similar legislation, which passed the Senate earlier this year.

The two houses — which seem to be in agreement about the need for changes in the law — have until the end of this week to pass a bill before this year’s session ends.

Increasing the penalties in this way may not be the perfect solution; some will undoubtably take their chances and try to escape responsibility. But the more serious charges may make drivers think twice before they leave victims seriously hurt on our roadways.

This legal loophole for those who hit and run has already been open for too long. We can’t wait another year.