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News / Courts & Crime

WSP alert system to catch hit-and-run drivers starts today

By Isabelle Parekh, The Spokesman-Review
Published: August 1, 2023, 7:41am

Starting today, the Washington State Patrol will begin sending electronic alerts to the public in hopes of catching motorists who flee the scene of serious crashes.

“Last year, our state saw over 300 hit-and-run collisions resulting in serious injury or death,” WSP Chief John R. Batiste said in a news release. “In many of those situations, information about the fleeing vehicle was available that, if widely disseminated, might have helped us find a dangerous driver.”

The new system, authorized by Washington lawmakers earlier this year, follows the implementation of similar systems in Colorado, Maryland and the more recent “Yellow Alert” proposal in California that went into effect this January.

In the case of a violent hit-and-run, police will send any available information to the WSP communications department, where a team can assess the details and determine if the crash meets the criteria for an alert. There must be enough available information to assist in locating the suspect vehicle, and the crash must result in either serious injury or death.

If the qualifications are met, the alert will be sent out to the regional media and those who sign up to receive the alerts electronically. Information will also be posted on law enforcement social media.

“This sounds very complicated, but all that can happen in just a few minutes,” WSP Director of Communications Chris Loftis said. “This is not for the run-of-the-mill, dent-in-your-bumper collision. It’s for something where someone has been seriously injured or killed.”

In practice, the new system should function like an AMBER Alert. Identifying details regarding the offending vehicle may be posted onto WSDOT electronic highway Variable Message Signs or Highway Advisory Radio systems to encourage the public to stay on the lookout, even if they don’t opt into receiving the alerts on their mobile phones.

Batiste warned motorists not to engage with the fleeing vehicle “under any circumstances.”

“Let our troopers and our fine local law enforcement officers do their jobs in safely and professionally contacting suspect vehicles,” Batiste said in the news release.

To sign up for hit-and-run electronic alerts, you can send an email request to hitandrunalert@wsp.wa.gov.

Isabelle Parekh’s reporting is part of the Teen Journalism Institute, funded by Bank of America with support from the Innovia Foundation.