‘Zack Alerts’ coming to NJ so public can help find hit-and-run drivers
You’ve probably heard of Amber Alerts to warn about a suspected child abduction, or Silver Alerts seeking help locating missing senior citizens, often with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.
Starting this summer, New Jersey will add Zack Alerts – the unofficial name for the new Statewide Hit and Run Advisory Program established by a law signed Tuesday by Gov. Phil Murphy, in which electronic road signs, broadcast media and text messages will alert the public to some hit-and-run crashes.
Assemblywoman Annette Chaparro, D-Hudson, the new law’s chief sponsor, said she’s “not even sure why we don’t have this in place already,” given that the public may have real-time information helpful to apprehending hit-and-run drivers in cases where a person is seriously injured or killed.
“There’s been so many hit and runs and so many families left devastated,” Chaparro said. “And how do you tell a family member that we have no answers for you and someone just hit your child and left them there to die?”
The law is named for Zackhary Simmons, who was killed in 2016 at age 21 in a hit-and-run in Hoboken. Simmons is a cousin of Ben Simmons, the NBA star who plays for the Philadelphia 76ers.
Chaparro said California, Colorado and Maryland have similar programs already and that perhaps knowing “the whole state will be looking for you” will deter people from fleeing after a crash.
“We want to let the public know also that – stop. Call an ambulance. Call for help,” Chaparro said. “Accidents happen. Do stay at the scene because you can save a life, instead of running. You’re going to get caught eventually.”
According to the New Jersey State Police Fatal Accident Investigation Unit, there have been 169 fatal hit-and-run crashes over the last five years, an average of about 34 a year. In 2018, the last year for which there is complete data, there were 39.
The bill requires the Office of the Attorney General, with help from participating media, to develop a public education campaign for the Hit and Run Advisory Program.
The law takes effect Aug. 1, though the attorney general can begin planning its implementation in advance.
Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.