Jan. 24th, 2015 started like a normal day for 18-year-old Jeremy Creed. He went about his business on a skateboard, his source of temporary transportation and maybe even income one day, if his dreams of becoming a pro skateboarder came to fruition. It was like any other day: he woke up in the morning, went to bed in the evening. Only this time, his final resting place was in a hospital.
No, he didn’t die. But his mother got quite the scare. While skateboarding, Creed maneuvered into the Foothill Ranch street to avoid traffic cones. The next thing he knew, a car hit him and promptly took off, leaving the young man with a marred foot and a dislodged pinky toe that required a skin grafting surgery to fix.
He is one of thousands of people who have been victims of hit-and-run drivers. Just this week, 24-year-old True Cowan was killed in Boyle Heights and 18-year-old Isabel Gonzalez was dragged by a car in Hacienda Heights, both of whom were left to fend for themselves by an unknown driver. Luckily for Jeremy Creed, his experience was not fatal.
“Getting behind the wheel needs to be a commitment to safety. If you hit someone it’s an accident; but when you make a conscious decision and choose to leave the scene it’s a crime,” Creed articulated. “To a victim on the streets, the first few minutes are so critical for them to receive help.”
The increasing amount of hit-and-run incidents that occur each year in California have reached epidemic proportions. In 2013 alone, California Highway Patrol’s Internet Statewide Integrated Traffic Records System recorded 14,401 hit-and-run collisions, 282 of them being fatal.
The national statistics aren’t so hot either. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, “One-fifth of the pedestrians killed in 2013 were struck in crashes that involved hit-and-run drivers.”
This incident shaped Jeremy Creed and his mother, Julie Creed, into the huge advocates for safe driving they are today. It was the night the two finally made it home from the hospital that Julie Creed felt the overwhelming desire to effect change.
“I got Jeremy settled and took care of the skin graft machines,” said Creed. “I sat on my bed to watch the news and saw Mayor Eric Garcetti announcing a [hit-and-run] alert system for Los Angeles. I was baffled as to why it was only for LA.”
When she reached out to her own mayor, Rancho Santa Margarita’s Brad McGirr, about why the system wasn’t implemented on a wider scale, he informed her of a similar bill, AB 47, had been vetoed by the Governor Jerry Brown the year before, despite passing in legislature with “overwhelming majorities.”
The cogs started to turn. Creed figured if she could work with Assemblyman Mike Gatto, who wrote the original bill, and other hit-and-run awareness initiatives such as Damien Kevitt’s Finish the Ride movement, they could make the governor listen.
“It’s gotten to the point to where not a single weekend goes by without another hit-and-run tragedy,” said Gatto in a recent press release. “People flee because there’s little chance they will be caught.”
With that in mind, he agreed to draft another bill, AB 8, and urge the governor even more persistently to get it signed.
“We were going to make it hard for the Governor to veto the bill this time around,” said Creed.
Soon, they had the press on their side, as well as an amalgamation of various companies and safe driving organizations to endorse bill AB 8, including Disney, CoreLogic, Edwards Lifesciences, the National Motorcycle Safety Association and the National Safety Council.
“It’s gotten to the point to where not a single weekend goes by without another hit-and-run tragedy. People flee because there’s little chance they will be caught.”
AB 8 would bring about Yellow Alerts, a system similar to Amber Alerts, that displays hit-and-run drivers’ license plate numbers and vehicle specifications when there is sufficient evidence to place the car at the scene. The alerts will be broadcasted on freeway message boards within the area surrounding the incident. Gatto is hoping that not only will this measure apprehend criminals convicted of hit-and-run driving, but it will also help prevent further hit-and-run collisions from occurring.
“California has the existing alert infrastructure in place and it costs us next to nothing to use it,” said Gatto, proving the fiscal sensibility of the bill.
Assemblyman Gatto’s press release stated that a similar system in Denver, Colorado called the Medina Alert increased hit and run arrest rates from 20 percent to 70 percent since its creation in 2012, prompting state legislators to implement the system statewide.
With the evidence that Colorado’s efforts were successful, both in Denver and in the state as a whole, and the mass plea to make a difference across California, Governor Jerry Brown signed the bill on Sept. 28, 2015. Jan. 2016 marks the first month of its implementation.
“I was very emotional [when the bill was signed into law] because I thought of my son and of all the other parents I had met along the way, most whose children did not survive. I immediately called my son to notify him of the news,” said Creed.
One criticism of the law, however, is that is that the addition of the new Yellow Alert will desensitize drivers to the Amber, Silver and Blue alert systems already in place. The original reason the first law was vetoed is because of the possibility of overwhelming drivers with too much freeway message board information.
“The alert system will aid the victims. These drivers cars are seen after the fact – they are on the streets or in your neighborhood, and by notifying the public we have a greater chance for justice,” she said.
In addition to the newfound Yellow Alert, Creed and Gatto encourage other organizations to keeping fighting for increased measures to promote safe driving. She also proposes a hit-and-run aspect should be added to drivers education curriculums.
“ATT is doing a great job with the ‘It Can Wait’ Texting and driving campaign,” said Creed. “I would like to see the insurance companies and car makers come on board. Education and awareness, this is critical.”