A Portland advocate for hit-and-run victims is calling for a statewide alert system that would send a text message to thousands of professional drivers and members of the public to help nab suspects.
Kristy Finney, whose son Dustin was killed in 2011 by a man driving drunk on Southeast Division Street, is modeling her proposal on a similar system already in use in Colorado for “cases involving serious injury or death — and when a reliable description of the fleeing vehicle is available.”
Last week, Colorado’s governor signed a statewide rollout of apparently successful pilot programs in Denver and Aurora. Here’s how the so-called “Medina Alert” will work there, according to Denver-based Rocky Mountain PBS:
The legislation instructs the state Department of Public Safety to set up a statewide alert system though television and radio, billboards and text messages whenever police need help locating a car and driver involved in a hit-and-run accident that led to a fatality or serious bodily injury.
The Medina Alert will be comparable to the Amber Alert for missing children.
The program was created by former Denver police officer Larry Stevenson in 2011 and named for Jose Medina, who was killed in 2011 by an hit-and-run driver on his first day of work as a parking valet. A taxicab driver who saw the accident called police and gave them a tip that helped catch the driver.
“The notification goes to all patrol cars, cabdrivers, news outlets, truck drivers and pedicab operators. A message is displayed on traffic reader boards and on Crime Stoppers’ Twitter and Facebook accounts,” adds the Denver Post.
That paper reported last year that seven such alerts had been issued in the area in 2012-2013, and “some have resulted in arrests.”
KATU-TV first reported last month on Finney’s campaign here in Portland, adding that “more than 1,200 cab drivers and 7,500 UPS trucks” are already enrolled in the Colorado programs. For Finney, who’s become an important figure in the local street safety world, it’s a way to marry modern technology with the public’s willingness to help apprehend criminals.
It also takes advantage of existing regulations that gather the contact information of professional drivers.
“I don’t want to get over it. I want to get out there and prevent it.”
— Kristi Finney on hit-and-run crashes
Last summer, after a string of ugly hit-and-run crashes, we wrote about the fundamental problem with hit-and-runs: though they carry basically the same penalty as drunken driving, hit-and-run drivers are harder to convict and seem to face less social stigma from judges and juries than people who drive drunk. It adds up to a system that makes some people think they’re better off leaving a crash’s victim to his or her fate.
At the time, Finney told us that she was working to build an online network for the family members of other hit-and-run victims — people like Linda Limon Medina, whose son Jose was killed in 2011 a few days before his wedding. A cab driver followed the fleeing vehicle and called police. Medina became an advocate for street safety legislation in Colorado, as Finney is in Oregon and Washington.
“My little voice does practically nothing, and if we can just get a bunch of us together to be a huge voice,” Finney said. “Some people want to get over it. I don’t want to get over it. I want to get out there and prevent it.”
Michael Andersen was news editor of BikePortland.org from 2013 to 2016 and still pops up occasionally.
I love both the Amber-Altert-like idea and Finney’s attitude expressed in the final quote.
As a hit and run victim, I think this program or a version of it is needed. There are other drivers on the road that can play a part. I myself have witnessed vehicle hit and runs and chased down the suspects. This is what is needed if we demand safety without a police state.
Completely the wrong approach. The focus should be on preventing the hit and run in the first place, by reducing distracted driving due to texting. Not by creating more distracted driving. This only works against prevention and will cost lives. We should not be counteracting the preventative side.
Tom, the potential for increased distracted driving was not lost on me when I made my comment. In fact, it was one of my first thoughts in reaction to reading about the Medina Alert idea, but I thought it one so obvious that I needed not mention it, especially since increased distracted driving would not be an inherent result of Medina Alerts, but instead one contingent upon drivers’ choices. Along that line, do you really think Medina Alerts would dramatically (even “significantly”?) change the potential that’s already there for the mentioned professional drivers to be distracted?
As for your suggestion that we should prevent hit-and-runs in the first place…who suggested otherwise? Imagine if murder trials were stopped because someone decided the focus should be on preventing murders. Clearly, we try to prevent murders and bring murderers to justice. Why can’t we do the same with hit-and-run criminals? Again, Medina Alerts don’t work against prevention, though drivers’ choices to look at alerts while driving could.
I think this is a great idea, although I hope that such drivers aren’t regularly checking their text messages while driving. It would be an ironic shame to run over a pedestrian while checking your phone for a message about a hit-and-run. Of course, if the drivers only check their phones when stopped then they could certainly still notice in time to be of use.
I imagine they would route the messages through the dispatch radio system not through private cellphones.
Are there any stats on how many cases per year would trigger such a system? If Denver had only seven cases over two years, “some of which [in other words: probably less than half] have resulted in arrests [in other words: probably not all convictions],” I do wonder how much sense it makes to spend energy and money on getting a similar system in Portland. Not saying that it isn’t worth it but having an idea of what this program can and can’t do would be good.
We do Amber alerts, though, although the number of abducted children is really low. There are about 150 cases per year in the US (a chance of 1:1.5 Million for a child to be abducted). The vast majority of those are custody cases and relatives taking the kids with them. Also, half of those 150 return within 24 hours. So if we do all this effort for Amber alerts, why not for Medina alerts? Maybe it would make people realize that it’s a serious offense and being publicly listed and shamed could help prevent hit and runs.
Oh, Barbara, I love your attitude and how eloquently you expressed it. I think I’ll plagiarize, if you don’t mind!
You are welcome. Thanks for all you do! By the way, I get my inspiration for statements like this from freerangekids.com.
Looking at lots of license plates:
When it’s done automatically by camera systems on red lights and police cars: OMG!!! BIG BROTHER!! POLICE STATE!! AUTHORITARIAN OVERLOAD!!
When it is done by hundreds or thousands of people driving such they themselves become a greater hit-and-run risk: 🙂 A-OK! 🙂
Love the goal, hate this suggested method.
This is less surveillance than it is community policing… which is ironic because as a member of the “bicycle community” I’ve more than once been told I should be “policing my own.”
I’d gladly see the Sheriff’s helicopter that my county flies over my house many times daily/nightly replaced by an unmanned drone with video if it meant the significant savings in aircraft fuel and manpower would be passed on to true public safety…
Look, I’m all for some amount of general surveillance. It can be provided by electronic systems or nosy busy body old folks sitting on their porch making everyone’s goings on their business. Either way you are going to feel just as violated when one or the other rats you out for real misdeeds or allows others to make irrational cognitive leaps based on incomplete information. This problem exists for electronic and biological surveillance systems so it makes no difference.
The problem with this idea is WE KNOW that people WILL NOT STOP texting while driving. We could probably get a weekly count of visual sightings of drivers in motion texting, reported only by Bikeportland.org readers, that tops 100 consistently.
We know that people won’t drive safely.
We know that people text while driving even though they know that they are not supposed to.
What this proposal would do is provide a justifiable excuse to distracted drivers for why they should be allowed to continue to do something blatantly unsafe.
That the excuse would be “justifiable” is an opinion only you have suggested so far.
Thanks, BikePortland! I didn’t even know this was coming. And if I say so myself, I love your last paragraph. I don’t even remember saying that….
My understanding is that the Medina Alert will be using the same technology as Amber Alerts so there should not be a huge expense to get it up and running. And the reason there are not that many solves in Colorado is because they only use the alerts when there are serious injuries or deaths AND there is a fairly good description of the vehicle. This is to prevent overuse of the system which may lead to people ignoring the alerts.
But isn’t it great to think that when the circumstances meet the criteria, there is information going out widespread and more quickly than it does now? Maybe I’m overly optimistic, but I’m hopeful for things. And I feel relief, too, because this at least is SOMETHING being done about hit and runs.
Extremely bad idea!! Having thousands of taxi and truck drivers reading texts while trying to drive will only result in many more innocent deaths due to distracted driving. The last thing we want is more people texting while they drive, especially alerts, which the driver is going to be more likely to take risks to read. Texting has been shown to be seven times more dangerous than drunk driving. We really want to send mass texts to create the equivalent of thousands of drunk drivers all at the same time?
Want to really reduce hit and run. Make the hit and run penalty on par with the drunk driving penalties. Drunk drivers almost always run because its to their advantage to find a place to sober up for a few hours before they get caught. Make the hit and run penalty worse than the drunk driving penalty, and fewer people will run in the first place.
Please propose solutions will not put others at risk, and create more victims.
Or maybe a ups driver looks at the message when they stop at a house, and the vehicle in question is sitting in the driveway with front end damage as they are delivering a package. UPS drivers see a lot of vehicles each day as they make their deliveries. Personally I think that increasing the chances of being caught quickly, along with harsher penalties might decrease the incidence of hit and run.
Amber alerts come to my phone and I don’t check them while driving. I would hope that professional drivers, whose very livelihoods depend on stellar driving records, would exercise the same good judgement and wait until parked before checking these alerts as well.
You mean like this professional driver, who recently killed a 6 year old girl in a crosswalk while checking his phone. Professional drivers are flawless right?
How is it that cab drivers seem to be some of the worst drivers on the road, yet they drive for a living?
Some cab drivers may be inherently bad drivers, but that would probably show up on their driving record before hiring. Most errant driving by cabbies can be traced back to the way they are paid–per run, and generally they have to make a minimum to pay for the car before they make a dollar. I think that it’s also a high-turnover job, and the new people are probably more likely to make mistakes or do crazy stuff.
I don’t think any driver is flawless, professional or not. There will always be bad actors that make poor choices.
I would argue that the problem is not the sending of the text, nor the content; the problem you are identifying relates to the behavior of irresponsible individuals and how they interact with their phones. This is a larger issue than the narrow scope we’re focused on in this article.
Do now we are going to give these bad drivers 10,000 more texting opportunities to create even more victims, and then just blame it on the bad drivers. That will not help the additional victims. Its not about the blame, its about preventing more victims.
Yes, if these drivers hit somebody while distracted by a Medina Alert, we will blame them for choosing to pay more attention to their phone than the road. You say it’s not about blaming, but here you are preemptively blaming Medina Alerts. Well, as people have already been saying: Whether we receive a Medina Alert or not, not looking at our phones is what prevents phone-distracted-driving victims.
um, no… we don’t need to distract drivers any further…
they’re already trying to pass a law that says if you text somebody when you know they’re driving and they cause an accident then you will be at fault for causing the accident because you knew the driver would probably check their phone illegally when you sent the message…
now we want to make it legal to purposely distract drivers with text messages?
no… spend the money on license plate readers instead…
Except that they will not be looking for a specific license plate. They will be looking for damage consistent with a recent wreck. This can’t be automated yet and requires human eyes and judgment.
Vulnerable road users often cause only minor damage to the vehicle…a scratch or small dent. Most vehicles on the road have some damage like this, so this will just generate many false sightings to distract from the real pursuit, plus additional accidents to further dilute emergency responders.
This is why we have experienced professionals that work in coordinated teams using best practice methods to identify perpetrators while maintaining minimum risk to the public. They are called the Police. Like them or not, at least they are trained and experience at this. I’m not ready to trade in the police force for a bunch of distracted truck drivers.
The people who drive taxis and delivery trucks are consistently stopping and idling all day/night long. They have plenty of time to check messages and process the information during these time. I don’t think this system will add any further distraction from the driving duties of the persons receiving these messages.
The only safety concern I could predict would be vigilantism; civilians in hot pursuit of bad guys often leads to tragedy.
Look at any texting sting results…people do not wait until the car is idle to check their phone. They text while driving. Just because they ‘could’ do something does not mean they will. Texting while idling at intersections is the absolute worst place anyway. Intersections require the most attention from drivers, even though the car is idle. Drivers bury their heads in their phones while ‘idle’ at intersections, miss when the light turns green, then punch the gas so they won’t get honked at….without taking time to check that the crosswalk is clear. This has already resulted in so many pedestrian deaths.
And what happens when the driver spots the plate….now they are chasing them around running stop signs and lights all while holding their phone and trying to reach the police. How many more people will die because of these chases.
If the hit and run driver’s plates are recorded at the scene, the driver will be always be caught. They are not getting away. Mass texting only creates more victims.
“People” do not wait until idling to check their phone? Which people? Or can we conclude from a sting on a tiny portion of people that all other people act like them at all times?
And at what point did Adam Gnarls mention idling at intersections?
If you were to find the plate, would you go after it while running signs and lights, holding your phone, and trying to reach the police? If not, what makes you assume everybody (or anybody) else would? How many more people would die from chases depends on how many people will chase, how they will chase, and what’s in their environment. Please stop acting like you or anyone else can predict any such thing.
And please keep in mind these alerts are not designed simply around catching people whose plates are known.
Tom, I appreciate all your concerns and your willingness to voice them. I don’t agree that the risks of sending a text a few times per year are as high as you do, though. And believe me, I want to prevent deaths and injuries on the road, regardless of if they are hit and runs. My son was killed. I am a completely different person than I used to be. I’ve testified before the legislature (and will again). I’ve put other ideas out to the Governor’s Advisory Committee on DUII. I don’t know what the answer is. Maybe this will turn out to be the wrong answer (I don’t think so, all of Colorado is now going to use them, instead of just one area; obviously they are deemed a success). Any way we look at it, even if there were no risks at all, this is just a small step for what is a big problem.
How many more accidents will this cause by cabbies reading texts while driving?
They aren’t going to pull over to check a text.
How do you know that?
How about some security company writes a license place scanning app for iPhone and Android that civilians can use in old smartphones mounted as dashboard cameras (or actual dedicated dash cameras).
The user would be required to install the app themselves and it would have to be manually put in to standby by the driver every time they drive.
The app would use Twitter to follow geographically local police departments.
When a license plate APB gets posted to a department’s Twitter account all the active plate scanner apps go from standby to live scanning.
Any app that finds it automatically posts the police department’s hash tag with the license plate number, GPS coordinates and time.
If this was set up properly the driver would never know that the system was doing a thing but they would be “doing their part” to protect the community. This would eliminate the distraction issue and bypass vigilante concerns because the driving public doesn’t know unless they were already reading texts/Twitter while driving.
I really like your idea, but it would only be supplemental, of course. Not all of us have smart phones.
This is very interesting… but I think like so many ideas, people will find a problem with it. Some how or another this would turn into the government just having another way to invade our privacy or use it against individuals. Something. But I still like the idea and appreciate your posting it.
Gizmodo: Text While Driving In The Bay Area And You Might End Up On A Billboard.
Not a bad idea for here.
I think there is a bigger thing being made out of a few texts per year than needs to be. In Colorado they sent 17 alerts in 2 years (13 solves). These texts are not going to go out with some kind of alarm or something that says look at me now. Those people who irresponsibly use their phones will still do so. Those who don’t, won’t. It is still the responsibility of all drivers to drive safely. Most people won’t even be in their cars. Also, these are only for serious injury or fatal crashes where there is a description of the vehicle. The vehicles involved likely would have significant damage, like in Dustin’s case… please, if you have other suggestions, let’s hear them.
Don’t think it has to be people driving cars that could be looking for these vehicles. What about body shops, car washes, parking lots, etc. And particularly the Amber Alert boards would be useful. My son, Michael Tucker was killed by a hit-and-run driver on April 28, 2007 and the driver was never caught. It happened on SE Powell near 28th and it changed the lives of everyone who knew him, forever. Even one unsolved hit-and-run death is too many!
Hi, Gail. I’d love to talk to you. Finnekk@comcast.net.