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New law toughens penalties for hit-and-run drivers

LAS VEGAS (KSNV News3LV) - A bill recently signed into law provides stiffer penalties for hit-and-run drivers in Nevada.

Gov. Brian Sandoval signed Senate Bill 245 on Friday. Supporters say the law should remove a legal loophole that allows drunken drivers to get a lower penalty if they flee the scene of a crash.

While the "leaving the scene statute" is designed to prevent hit and runs, sometimes drunken drivers do the opposite.

At a hearing of the Senate Transportation Committee in March, speakers expressed concern that there are times when officials can't prosecute a driver for felony DUI - even though they suspect it - because there was no evidence by the time the driver was arrested. The driver would then only face a lesser charge for leaving the scene.

The new law closes that loophole by making the penalty of leaving the scene the same as a felony DUI.

The penalty is 2 to 20 years with no probation rather than 2 to 15 years with probation.

The second change allows the driver to be punished separately for each victim who suffered bodily injury or death.

Nevada Highway Patrol Trooper Chelsea Stuenkel said she's hopeful this law will deter drivers from taking off.

"We've investigated this year over 600 hit-and-run crashes in Southern Nevada," Stuenkel said. "Not only is it a horrific crime for family members, at Nevada Highway Patrol that's a lot of resources. We have to spend a lot of time investigating those crashes and doing follow ups."

According to the Nevada Legislature website, the changes go into effect on or after Oct. 1.

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