It's always a sad affair when a pedestrian or cyclist is hit by a car or truck – the latter will always win – but it's especially tragic when that accident becomes a hit-and-run incident. A person is either killed or severely injured, and the guilty party sometimes gets off scot-free.
Unfortunately, the way the law stands today, if you are drunk behind the wheel of a car and strike a pedestrian or cyclist, it is actually in your benefit to drive off and sober up. If the driver later turns themselves in or are caught, their punishment will be much less than if they stayed at the scene and failed a sobriety test.
This actually happened a number of years ago in Queens. In 2011, George Gibbons was on his way home in a livery cab after closing up his popular Maspeth watering hole when the car he was in was struck by another vehicle going the wrong way down the LIE frontage road.
The driver of that vehicle, Peter Rodriquez, fled the scene. The speculation was that he was under the influence at the time of the accident, but by the time he was finally caught in Connecticut about a month later, there was no way to prove that.
He eventually received a sentence of three to seven years on a plea deal, but it would have been much less if not for his long rap sheet. Either way, it was far less than the minimum of 15 years for vehicular homicide he could have received. For Rodriguez, it paid to run.
Now a Brooklyn assemblyman and the district attorney are trying to change that. They want to make the penalty for leaving the scene of an accident the same as if you had stayed to help your victim and were intoxicated.
The plan by Assemblyman Joe Lentol and acting district attorney Eric Gonzalez also includes a public education campaign about the penalties for hit-and-run drivers, as well as the creation of a statewide hit-and-run alert system following an accident that involves serious injury or death to aid in the capture of the offending driver.
If you drive a vehicle, it's becoming imperative that you pay attention and stay alert as more and more bike lanes and crosswalks appear on the streets, making interactions with cyclists and pedestrians inevitable.
But if you are involved in an accident, even if you have been drinking, the righteous thing to do is to stay and help. Under the law, the expedient and beneficial action shouldn't be to keep driving.