How to stop LA’s hit-and-run “epidemic”

Continental crosswalks press conference

Los Angeles Walks joins many in expressing concern over statistics uncovered by a recent LA Weekly article on the high prevalence of hit-and-run accidents in the City of Los Angeles and the frequent lack of effective response by law enforcement and city leaders. According to the Weekly, 48 percent of traffic accidents in Los Angeles are hit and run offenses, much higher than the national average of 11 percent. Approximately 100 pedestrians are killed each year in Los Angeles by hit and run drivers.

Motor vehicle crashes are a significant threat to public safety, especially for pedestrians and children. We blogged earlier this year about how pedestrians in Los Angeles were disproportionately likely to be victims of fatal car crashes compared to national statistics. Motor vehicle crashes are the third leading cause of preventable death in Los Angeles County, behind only coronary heart disease and homicide. Motor vehicle crashes are even more dangerous to children and to young adults. These crashes are the single highest cause of death [PDF] (not just preventable death) for children ages 1-4 and the second highest cause of death for children and young adults between the ages of 5-24.

As such, law enforcement agencies and policy makers should be taking car and truck crashes very seriously, with a focus on prevention, enforcement and prosecution. It is shocking and disappointing to read so many accounts of tragic deaths and injuries that suggest a lax attitude towards hit and run offenses from some police, prosecutors, and elected officials. The city and LAPD do not keep track of how many injuries and deaths result from hit-and-run crashes. There are not enough traffic enforcement officers to respond to all fatal hit-and-run crashes, let alone hit-and-run incidents that cause severe injuries. Few fleeing drivers are ever tracked down by police. Those that are, or who turn themselves in, often get light criminal sentences, like a drunk driver in a case profiled by the LA Weekly who maimed a cyclist but received just six months of community service.

The City of Los Angeles needs to get serious about reducing fatalities and injuries from all motor vehicle crashes, especially hit and run incidents. Here are some steps we think they should take:

  • Publicize the crisis of deaths from motorized vehicle crashes and set targets and strategies to address the problem. If Los Angeles fails to even collect data about hit and run injuries and fatalities, how can it reduce the carnage? LAPD and city leaders are proud of progress made in lowering homicides and should bring the same focus to reduce vehicular killings by increasing staffing, enforcement and punishments to deter unsafe driving and catch hit and run offenders.
  • Design roads for safety rather than for speed. The best way to reduce speeding, unsafe driving, and resulting crashes and deaths is to design and transform streets so that drivers are constrained and influenced by the physical layout of the road to move at a safe speed. Narrower lanes and traffic calming measures cause drivers slow down more effectively than posted speed limits on a wide, straight street engineered to remove all obstacles for fast motor traffic.
  • Invest in pedestrian infrastructure and programs proportionate to the need. Nearly 20 percent of trips in Los Angeles are on foot and 32 percent of traffic fatalities are pedestrians but only 1 percent of transportation dollars go to pedestrian infrastructure or safety improvements. Money spent on more visible and better lit crosswalks; on improved lighting for sidewalks and intersections; on education on sharing the road with walkers; and on calming and redesigning streets with the highest rates of pedestrian deaths can reduce accidents and make walking safer for all.
  • Lower speed limits to protect pedestrians, especially children. Pedestrians hit by a car travelling 20 m.p.h. have just a 5 percent chance of being killed. The fatality rate skyrockets to 85 percent when a car is travelling 40 m.p.h. Many cities around the world are setting speed limits near schools and in residential and other highly walked areas at 20 m.p.h./30 k.p.h.

Let us know how you’d like to help make walking in the city of Los Angeles, and your neighborhood in particular, safer, by signing up for our newsletter and attending one of our upcoming meetings.

—Mark Vallianatos