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New Colorado law suspends driver's license for fleeing injury or fatal crashes

December 29, 2017 Updated: December 30, 2017 at 9:23 pm
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New Colorado law suspends driver's license for fleeing injury or fatal crashes (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)

If you leave the scene of an accident involving injury or death when the new year rings in, you just suspended your own driver's license, the Colorado State Patrol is reminding motorists.

Last session lawmakers passed House Bill 1277 to automatically suspend licenses, allowing those suspected to make a case for a temporary license while their court case is pending. Under current law, the state revokes the driver's license after a conviction.

Under the new law, an officer on the scene can take a person's license, instead of waiting for the slow wheels of the court system to get that person off the road. The new law allows the driver to request a court hearing to get a probationary license.

"It's become quite an epidemic in Colorado, people leaving the scene of an accident," Trooper Gary Cutler said Friday. "They're just not sticking around, whether they're impaired or they panic, people need to understand it's a very serious situation. It's just going to make it worse if they run."

During committee testimony during the last session, lawmakers learned that a person who might be drunk or stoned could think his or her best chances of keeping their license would be to flee and hope to sober up before the cops catch them.

"Right now they could flee the scene of an accident and if they're not caught right away, they've got a pretty good assurance they're not going to lose their driver's license," Sgt. Chris Hall of the State Patrol told the House Judiciary Committee, where the bill began, on April 25.

But Rep. Yeulin Willett, R-Grand Junction, a lawyer, expressed skepticism on whether people think that way in the heat of the moment.

"Do we really think people are going to know what the ramifications are, and that's going to impact their behavior after an accident one way or the other?" he asked.

Hall said that's a valid point, but, "People who are making these decisions - this is not for bland hit-and-runs where somebody clips a fence and keeps going - are making a conscious choice to leave people dead or dying in our streets."

The bill passed the House, 63-0, and the Senate, 35-0, in the final days of the session that ended May 10. It was sponsored by Rep. Diane Mitsch Bush, D-Steamboat Springs, and Sen. Beth Martinez Humenik, R-Thornton.

Leaving the scene of any accident that caused an injury is a class 1 misdemeanor traffic offense, which has a maximum fine of $300 and 10 days in jail. That elevates to a class 4 felony if the accident resulted in serious injury, and it becomes a class 3 felony if there's a death, which carries a maximum penalty of 12 years in jail and a $750,000 fine.

Between Jan. 1, 2014, to Dec.31, 2016, there were 271 people (out of 350 cases) ultimately convicted for leaving the scene of an accident with injuries or death in Colorado, not counting the sealed records of minors. Of those, 208 were men, according to the Department of Motor Vehicles.

Legislative analysts told lawmakers in a report to anticipate at least 300 people a year would have their licenses suspended because of the law. To get their license back, people will have to pay a $95 fee plus $6 for a replacement license, which would bring in an extra $15,000 for the counties or municipalities where the offenses occurred.

The Colorado State Patrol said in a press release Thursday afternoon, "Where practical, individuals are also required to give reasonable assistance to a person injured in the accident, which includes seeking medical assistance, and to give immediate notice of the location of the accident and any other applicable information to the nearest authorized police authority."

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