Act 151, which originated as Senate Bill 1, enacts “C.J.’s Law” which makes hit-and-run accidents that result in serious injury a felony. Prior to this law, the charge carried a maximum five-year sentence. The penalty is now increased up to 10 years.
The legislation is named for Charlie E. Jones, 23, known as C.J. to family and friends. Jones was walking along Piedmont Road in Cobb County on January 24, 2009, when authorities said a driver hit him and left the scene. Seriously injured, Jones was lying in the roadway when another car ultimately struck and killed him. The second driver stayed to report the accident.
A crash is generally classified as a hit-and-run when at least one person involved in the incident flees the scene before offering sufficient information or aid to the other parties involved or fails to report the crash. Due to the rise in hit and runs in the state and throughout the country Georgia lawmakers are pushing for tougher sentences. “CJ’s Law” is widely supported by Georgia district attorneys.
According to a study released by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety Deaths, hit-and-run crashes in the United States are now at an all-time high. It has been reported that 2049 people (72 in Georgia) were killed by hit-and-run crashes in 2016, which is a 62 percent increase from 2009, the last year in which a downward trend was recorded. The AAA study found that 65 percent of fatal hit-and-run collisions were pedestrians or cyclists and that almost 20 percent of all pedestrian deaths over the last decade were caused by hit-and-run crashes, compared to 1 percent of driver fatalities.
Georgia ranked fourth in the U.S. for most fatal hit-and-run crashes. In 2017, 260 pedestrians were killed on state roads, up from 232 in 2016. The 260 deaths were double the number killed in 2011, according to the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT). Fulton and DeKalb counties lead the state for the most fatal wrecks involving pedestrians, according to U.S. Department of Transportation statistics. In Georgia, 133 pedestrians were killed on roads during the first half of 2018, the report projects. That’s a 32 percent increase compared to the first half of 2017.
The number of pedestrians killed on U.S. roads in 2018, was the highest it has been since 1990, with 32 more Georgia deaths recorded last year than 2017, according to a projection released by the Governor’s Highway Safety Association (GHSA). The report estimates that 6,227 pedestrians were killed on U.S. roads in 2018.
The AAA study found that hit-and-run crashes involving pedestrians are most likely to occur between midnight and 4 a.m., when suspects are more likely to escape unseen; on roads with lower speed limits, where pedestrians are most likely to cross; and in areas with heavy foot traffic. Fatal pedestrian accidents happen most often in urban or suburban areas, are outside of intersections, and are on busy roads designed mainly to funnel vehicle traffic toward freeways. Crashes were increasingly likely to involve SUVs and high-horsepower vehicles. Although inclement weather was not found to be a causal effect in the increase of hit and runs, drivers are encouraged to cut their speeds, be more vigilant and exercise safety precautions by making sure headlights are on.
The suspected causes of the rise in hit-and-runs varies. Some say improvements in road design, vehicle design and lighting and speed limit enforcement all have a role to play in addressing the issue. Other factors include population growth, the amount of time people spend walking and the shift in car sales from passenger cars to light trucks, which cause “more severe pedestrian impact than cars,” the GHSA report says. Yet another possible factor named in the report is smartphone use though the report notes there isn’t enough evidence to link the increase in smartphone use with the increase in pedestrian deaths. Pedestrian crashes have been blamed on a pedestrian mistake, such as not using a crosswalk when one is available.
AAA said drivers can avoid hit-and-run crashes by being aware of their surroundings, yielding to crossing pedestrians even if they’re not in designated crosswalks and giving cyclists “plenty” of space when passing them on the road. Should drivers get involved in a crash with a pedestrian or cyclist, they should stay on the scene, call 911 and offer any aid possible.