New laws went into effect on September 1 for Texas drivers. One of the new laws provides drivers with a greater incentive to stay at the accident scene and help the injured. The new law increases the penalties for drivers involved in hit-and-run fatalities or those who fail to stop and render aid. Advocates are hoping that Texas drivers will acknowledge the tougher penalties and keep drivers on scene of a motor vehicle accident. This is a significant step in making the roadways safer.
The penalty for hit-and-run fatalities is now equal to that for intoxicated manslaughter. The penalty went from a third-degree felony to a second-degree felony. A second-degree felony carries a maximum punishment of 20 years in prison, whereas a third-degree felony carries a penalty of a maximum of 10 years. Previously, failure to stop and render aid after an accident was a third-degree felony, carrying a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison. The new law raises the offense to a second-degree felony, with a maximum penalty of 20 years. Another new law makes failure to stop and render aid after an accident that may have caused injury punishable by up to 10 years.
Bill Lewis, a spokesman for Mothers Against Drunk Driving, said “before there was a perverse incentive to leave the scene of a wreck if you were intoxicated” because the penalties for intoxication were higher but now the penalties are the same for both.
State Rep. Elliott Naishtat, D-Austin, who was a sponsor of the legislation on stopping and rendering aid, said legislation on the new punishment passed easily with bipartisan support. Some legislators were swayed by the trial of Gabrielle Nestande, a former legislative staff member who was accused of the 2011 hit-and-run death of Courtney Griffin, 30, in Austin. After being arrested the morning after the accident, Nestande told the police that she did not know she had hit Griffin. She was found guilty of criminally negligent homicide but acquitted on charges of intoxication manslaughter, manslaughter, and failure to stop and render aid.
The legislation takes away the common defense of “I thought I hit a deer” or “I thought I hit a trash can”. Laurie Griffin, Courtney Griffin’s mother and an advocate of the bill’s passage, said “People need to know what’s going to happen if they don’t stop, and that’s from a mother that lost her daughter to complete nonsense.”