Reed Bill Strengthening Hit-and-Run Penalties Signed Into Law
Rep. Reed (R-Indiana) and families of hit-and-run victims meet with Gov. Tom Corbett following the passage of House Bill 208. The legislation, which has been signed into law, strengthens penalties on individuals involved in fatal hit-and-run accidents. The approval of House Bill 208 culminates several years of work by Reed and families of hit-and-run victims across the state.
Front row, from left to right
Rep. Dave Reed, Heather Pearce Kunkle, Shannon Anderson, Gov. Tom Corbett, Darla Hilliard
Back row, from left to right
Steven Jenkins, Jessica Jenkins, Abby Anderson, Scott Anderson, Mary Dougherty, James Dougherty
HARRISBURG – Legislation authored by Rep. Dave Reed (R-Indiana) and designed to strengthen penalties on individuals involved in fatal hit-and-run accidents was signed into law yesterday by Gov. Tom Corbett. The approval of House Bill 208 culminates several years of work by Reed and families of hit-and-run victims across the state.
“After years of work and an incredible commitment by the families of the individuals victimized by hit-and-run drivers, we are finally seeing this important bill signed into law,” Reed said.
House Bill 208 closes a loophole in existing law that unintentionally incentivizes a hit-and-run driver to flee the scene, especially if the driver is intoxicated.
Currently, a fatal hit-and-run accident is a third-degree felony that carries a mandatory prison term of at least one year, with a maximum sentence of seven years. By comparison, a fatal accident that involves a drunk driver is a second-degree felony with a much stiffer penalty range of three to 10 years in prison.
Due to the discrepancy in penalties, drunk drivers involved in an accident that causes death actually have an incentive to leave the scene, sober up and turn themselves in once they are no longer intoxicated in order to avoid the stronger drunk driving charge.
House Bill 208 increases the penalty for a fatal hit-and-run accident from a third-degree to a second-degree felony. This, in combination with an expanded ability of judges to provide a longer prison sentence though a sentencing enhancement, will ensure fair penalties are enforced. Moreover, the ultimate goal of the bill is to help ensure that in these cases drivers stop to render help rather than flee.
Reed first introduced the legislation following the death of Sean Pearce of Burrell Township, Indiana County, who was killed by a hit-and-run driver while riding his bicycle on state Route 119 north of Blairsville on July 15, 2005. The case involving Pearce was one of several high-profile examples across the state highlighting the need for a change in the existing law.
“Over the last several years, we have heard of far too many instances where individuals have been killed by hit-and-run drivers and it is later determined that the driver was intoxicated at the time of the accident,” Reed said. “Our laws must help protect the victims and enforce justice. Fortunately, with House Bill 208 now law, we have ensured that will take place.”
Among the many groups that have supported House Bill 208 was the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association, which has been advocating for the closure of the hit-and-run loophole for years. Reed applauded their effort and support of the measure.
“Being drunk and leaving the scene of an accident is serious, but until now the law and its penalties have actually encouraged drunk drivers to leave the scene of an accident because they would get a lighter penalty,” said Francis Shultz, president of the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association. “District attorneys across Pennsylvania supported this legislation because it more accurately reflects the public dangers of drunk driving and, in the long run, we hope, will help save lives.”
Altogether, Reed has introduced similar legislation to address the hit-and-run loophole in four consecutive sessions starting in 2005. The plan first passed the state House this session more than a year ago.
“To see this issue finally come to a close and the bill signed is extremely satisfying,” said Reed. “The families of all the victims have shown a great deal of courage in advocating for this bill. I fully credit them for their commitment and hope this helps bring to them a sense of closure.”
The new law will take effect in 60 days.
State Representative Dave Reed
62nd District, Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Contact: Todd Brysiak