Today, a new law takes effect in Pennsylvania which will significantly increase the penalties for those who cause a death in a hit-and-run accident in the state. Lawmakers say that the new law will effectively close a loophole which previously allowed drunk drivers involved in hit-and-run crashes to evade a stricter sentence by admitting their involvement in the accident after they were no longer intoxicated.
Under the new law, a driver that leaves the scene of a fatal car accident can now be sentenced to up to 10 years in prison. Previously, the maximum sentence for that offense was seven years. In addition, the crime has been upgraded to a second-degree felony from third degree. The former minimum sentence of one year in prison remains the same.
State officials say that the new law allows them to properly penalize those who cause a fatal accident while driving drunk and then leave the scene. Under the state sentencing guidelines, those drivers could get a shorter sentence by two years or more by admitting their crime after they had sobered up. This is because it is more difficult to prove that they were intoxicated at the time of the crash without the driver's blood-alcohol level and other evidence from the time of the accident.
Now, with the additional three years that judges may levy on those who cause fatal hit-and-run accidents, there is room for that loophole to be closed, without fully equating the two offenses.
In general, state officials say, it is best for drivers to stop, not only for the fact that they may receive a lesser punishment, but because their actions in the wake of the accident could very well help save a life.
Source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, "Stiffer penalties ahead for fatal Pennsylvania hit-and-run accidents," Clara Ritger, Aug. 13, 2012