What Is a Yellow Alert in California?

It is illegal to hit another vehicle and then drive off, yet numerous California drivers commit hit-and-runs every year. According to California’s Statewide Integrated Traffic Records System (SWITRS), approximately 300 individuals were killed in hit-and-run accidents in 2019 alone. 

Drivers who hit another vehicle and drive away can face steep penalties, including incarceration and significant fines. These penalties are on top of any civil liability for damages that the hit-and-run driver may face. But all of this assumes that the hit-and-run driver can be identified and apprehended. 

The Difficulty With Fatal Hit-and-Run Investigations

Identifying and locating a hit-and-run driver following an accident is challenging. Law enforcement’s ability to locate the hit-and-run driver depends on:

  • The speed with which the hit-and-run is reported to law enforcement
  • The level of detail in the description of the car and driver given to law enforcement
  • Whether the hit-and-run driver is traveling out of the area or lives locally
  • How openly and for how long the hit-and-run driver continues to drive their damaged vehicle

When the victim of a hit-and-run dies, these already challenging investigations become even more difficult. If there are no other witnesses to the collision, getting a clear description of the hit-and-run vehicle may not be possible. 

And if the accident is not immediately reported, the hit-and-run driver can be miles away from the scene of the crash before local law enforcement begins looking for them.

Yellow Alerts Enlist the Public in Finding Hit-and-Run Drivers

Taking a cue from the popular and successful AMBER Alert program, Governor Gavin Newsom signed Assembly Bill 1732 into law in 2022 and initiated the California Statewide Yellow Alert Program. The program went into effect in January.

The Yellow Alert Program allows law enforcement officers who are investigating a fatal hit-and-run accident to broadcast an alert for other drivers to be on the lookout for the suspect vehicle. Before issuing a Yellow Alert, law enforcement must:

  • Be actively investigating a fatal hit-and-run collision
  • Believe the suspect vehicle is either fleeing using the state highway system or is likely to be spotted by others on the state highway system
  • Have certain specific information about the suspect vehicle
  • Believe that broadcasting a Yellow Alert will help prevent harm to others or aid in the apprehension of the suspect driver

In deciding whether a Yellow Alert should be issued, law enforcement needs to consider the following circumstances and factors:

Information About the Suspect or Suspect’s Vehicle

First, law enforcement must have specific information about the hit-and-run suspect or the suspect’s vehicle to avoid being overwhelmed with unhelpful tips. If law enforcement does not have either the complete license plate number of the suspect vehicle or the identity of the suspect themselves, they will need to include other descriptive information in the Yellow Alert. 

Law enforcement must have at least a partial license plate number of the suspect vehicle and other descriptive information about the vehicle, such as its make, model, or color. The more information about the suspect vehicle that law enforcement can include in the Yellow Alert, the greater the likelihood that the vehicle will be located.

Likelihood of Apprehension or Prevention of Future Harm

Making a Yellow Alert broadcast has the potential to distract a large number of drivers on the highway. For this reason, law enforcement must have facts leading them to believe that making the alert will prevent other accidents or help apprehend the culprit.

In making this determination, the law requires officers to consider all the facts and circumstances of the situation. The time that will have passed between the accident and the issuance of the alert is especially relevant. The more time that has elapsed, the less likely it is that the vehicle will be located and the less helpful a Yellow Alert might be.

What to Do if You Receive a Yellow Alert

Yellow Alerts may be new to California, but the steps you are asked to take when you receive one are not. You should be on the lookout for the vehicle or suspect described in the alert. If you have additional information about the incident described in the alert, contact law enforcement right away.

Since 1992, our personal injury attorneys at the Pines Salomon Injury Lawyers, LLP. have been fighting for the people of San Diego. Now, when those injured in automobile accidents – including cartruck, and motorcycle accidents – need financial help, or for the families that need to know that the loss of a loved one could have been prevented, there is a personal injury law firm in San Diego that is on their side. If you or a family member has been injured, call the lawyers at Pines Salomon Injury Lawyers, LLP. There’s never been a better time than right now to speak to a personal injury attorney—FREE of charge. Call us at 858-551-2090 or request a free consultation online today!