This is an excerpt from Are we there yet?, a Globe Opinion newsletter about the future of transportation in the region. Sign up to get it in your inbox a day early.
A driver kills a pedestrian, then speeds off into the night. Maybe the motorist just didn’t realize they’d hit someone. Maybe they did and panicked. Or maybe they just knew the odds of getting away with a hit-and-run are alarmingly high and figured they’d rather take their chances than own up to what they did.
A distressing investigative report by Kerry Kavanaugh and Marina Villeneuve at Channel 25 examines hit-and-run fatalities in the state and found that “no one in Massachusetts is tracking how often cases in our state end up getting solved.” Compiling their own database, the reporters found at least 23 unsolved hit-and-run fatalities.
The whole article is worth your time. And the state and local governments in Massachusetts clearly need to do a better job tracking — and, ultimately, solving — hit-and-run deaths.
The report cites Chicago’s system of tracking fatalities as one that municipalities could emulate. The city has a data dashboard that tracks accidents and “tracks the outcomes of all hit-and-run crashes, including those that cause injury or death.” Los Angeles tracks its clearance rate of hit-and-runs — how many have been solved — but, according to the report, Boston does not.
More transparency on unsolved cases would give the state a firmer grasp on the extent of the problem — and bring some comfort to families of victims who want to keep traffic killings on authorities’ radar screens. Some kind of public database might also play a role in actually solving fatalities, if it means more publicity that generates more tips from the public.
Another possible solution: an “Amber alert”-style system, like the ones in California, Colorado, Maryland, and Washington. In cases of a hit-and-run, messages would be sent to nearby cellphones and displayed on highway signs seeking the public’s help. Advocates believe “the alerts could lead to more solved cases by giving police more to work with right away once a suspect flees the scene.”
Hit-and-run cases are tough to solve. But not impossible. There are more video cameras on the roads than in decades past, and most drivers carry cellphones that can help police narrow down the universe of drivers who might have been in an area at the time of a fatality. Part of the state’s commitment to safer streets has to be ending the impunity for hit-and-run drivers who — whether knowingly or not — make the streets unsafe for everyone.
Alan Wirzbicki is Globe deputy editor for editorials. He can be reached at email@example.com.