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California's Using Its Amber Alert System to Find Hit-and-Run Drivers

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Since 1996 Amber Alerts have been used to tell drivers to watch for cars associated with child abductions. But Amber Alerts are relatively rare (thankfully), so in the best possible use of the system the rest of the time, California is using them to find cars involved in hit-and-run crashes.

Enacted by a bill signed into law this week by Governor Jerry Brown, a “Yellow Alert”—to differentiate it from an Amber Alert—will similarly display the make, model, and license plate of cars which have left the scene of a crash. The alerts will be broadcast on local networks and displayed on a series of programmable signboards on freeways. Unlike Amber Alerts, however, the messages won’t be distributed to a location-based group of mobile phones, as Amber Alerts have since 2013 as part of the Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) system.


Deciding which cases to broadcast on the statewide system will be the biggest challenge facing law enforcement officials, since hit-and-runs are far more frequent than child abductions. It’s likely the Yellow Alert would probably only be issued if the crash had resulted in a fatality, but that’s still a significant number: In LA last year, 27 people were killed by hit-and-run drivers. But like child abduction cases, time is of the essence when it comes to hit-and-runs. In this Vocativ report about the effectiveness of Amber Alerts, about half of the cars were found within three hours of the alert. After that point, the likelihood of finding the car diminished significantly.

This is hopefully the first of many dedicated systems for locating negligent drivers, many of whom are statistically never found or prosecuted. Yellow Alerts can also be used in other ways to support initiatives to eliminate traffic deaths, sometimes called Vision Zero campaigns. In LA, a partnership was announced earlier this year between the LAPD and several local organizations to share hit-and-run alerts on social media. And recently, Waze announced it would broadcast similar information about hit-and-run investigations to its over one million users in LA.



Follow the author at @awalkerinLA

Photo via California State Assemblyman @MikeGatto, who championed the bill