INDIANAPOLIS — When IMPD officers found a man down at East 10th Street and North Sheridan Avenue on the city’s eastside Sunday, his death set a record for the most victims killed in hit-and-run accidents in a single year.
21 pedestrians, bicyclists and motorists have been killed in crashes where the driver sped off in 2022, compared to as few as 14 in 2018.
Indianapolis passed the 2021 total with another 12 weeks to go in the year.
“More people are out driving during the pandemic the last couple years, we didn’t have as many people out, that could be one of the reasons,” said IMPD Ofc. William Young.
“I think we have a lot of speed on the road,” said Retired IMPD Sgt. Doug Heustis, who spent more than two decades investigating fatal crashes across Marion County. “We saw a lot of speed the last couple years ever since the pandemic. This has increased the number of fatalities and in turn, increased the number of fatal hit-and-runs. Probably have more people out walking so you have more pedestrians.”
Of the hundreds of crashes he investigated, Heustis said there was one overwhelming reason why drivers tend to flee the scene.
“Traditionally the number one reason for our runs when for whatever reason drivers flee is they are impaired,” he said. “That’s well over fifty percent for the single most common cause as to why a driver flees a scene. They know they don’t want to be there when the police get there. They know they’re gonna be in trouble. They’ve caused a serious crash now. They know they’re drunk. They’ve gotta get out of there.”
Before he retired this past July, Heustis recognized a change in driver behavior traced back to the pandemic of 2020.
“We’ve all been around driving for years in the city. Driving behavior is worse now than in all the years I’ve seen since I’ve been a police officer,” he said. “We’re seeing that. Running red lights. Tailgating. Passing people on the yellows, on the double yellows in no passing zones.”
IMPD officers, focused on the pre-emptive fight against and the response to violent crime and stretched thin by manpower shortages, may be less inclined to initiate traffic stops for driving violations in the wake of the elimination of Indiana’s gun permit law and doubts about potentially armed drivers as well as possible confrontations over minor offenses.
Huestis said drunk driving arrests are a complicated, time-consuming enforcement that may be a challenge to officers patrolling the streets.
“There needs to be that steady DUI enforcement,” he said. “There needs to be good DUI prosecution. And they need to understand they will pay a price if they drive drunk.”
The City has recognized that the driving environment likely plays a role in the record pedestrian fatality rate.
The Department of Public Works budget calls for spending $30 million over the next five years for sidewalk construction and the City along with AES Indiana has committed to installing nearly 2300 new street lights and upgrading 26,000 lights to LED technology.
In 2023, the City is seeking to hire a traffic engineer to study and consult on road conditions that may have contributed to crashes, fatal and otherwise, as well as creating a cross-departmental fatal crash review team to evaluate vehicle accident deaths and the factors behind them.
So far this year, IMPD has made arrests in 11 of its fatal hit-and-run investigations.
There have been more than 6,000 hit-and-runs reported so far this year.
34 pedestrians and bicycle riders have been killed in 2022 and nearly 200 have been injured.