FOR THE THIRD time in recent weeks, area teenagers behind the wheels of stolen cars have caused fatal accidents, including the deaths of two people in crashes in the District. Those events made the news. But the theft of cars being driven recklessly by young adults and children occurs with such frequency that it has become almost commonplace in some D.C. neighborhoods. The brazenness also suggest a total disrespect for the law, property and police officers. Some of the juvenile drivers of stolen cars even taunt the police as they flee, secure in the knowledge that there is no penalty for deliberately trying to elude a cop. Legislation passed by the D.C. Council last week will help deal with this dangerous situation.
One of two measures sponsored by Judiciary Committee Chairwoman Kathy Patterson (D-Ward 3) and approved by the council imposes criminal sanctions for people behind the wheel who flee police or fail to stop for a cop. The second tightens juvenile justice laws to impose greater accountability not only for juvenile officers but for the parents of offenders as well.
No longer will judges be able to dismiss juvenile cases without getting to the merits of the case or without requiring the child's parent or guardian to be involved in the child's rehabilitation. Parents and guardians, by law, will be required to participate in all of their children's rehabilitation, including hearings, counseling and other court-appointed programs. The days of free rides in stolen cars are also over. Flight from a police officer or failure to stop when ordered may get the offender 180 days in jail, a $1,000 fine and a suspended driver's license once the time is served. Damage property or injure someone while driving recklessly, and you may face one year behind bars, a $5,000 fine and a suspended license.
Are these new sanctions panaceas for reckless teenage driving? Of course not. Will police discover that they have more tools to help them on the streets? Yes. Will parents and guardians learn that they are going to be held responsible for reining in their children from criminal behavior? That's the message in the juvenile justice measure. The mayor has promised his support for these bills. The next step is to get them signed and then strictly enforced.