-- Update at bottom --
Amy Senser unsuccessfully argued during her trial that because she (falsely) believed she struck a traffic cone or pothole with her SUV and not a person, she shouldn't be convicted of criminal vehicular homicide.
A bill headed to Gov. Dayton's desk would prevent that so-called "ignorance argument" from being made in future hit-and-run cases.
The bill, authored by Rep. Paul Rosenthal (D-Edina) and Sen. Kevin Dahle (D-Northfield), requires drivers who collide with an object to stop and check out what they've hit. In short, if your car hits with a person, another car, or piece or property, you have a legal obligation to stop and "reasonably investigate" the situation. No more of this "I thought I hit a pothole or traffic cone" stuff. (Read the full bill here.)
Rosenthal says the measure simply brings the law into accordance with our intuitions about what's expected of people.
"It's common sense for most Minnesotans that if you hit something, it's your responsibility to stop and investigate what you hit, but this bill sets out in clear language that Minnesota courts will not tolerate people leaving the scene of a collision without at least attempting to see what they collided with and making contact with the victims if there were other individuals involved," Rosenthal says in a statement. "It's the sort of personal responsibility that we expect."
The bill, approved yesterday by the House, had broad bipartisan support in both chambers. It now heads to Governor Dayton's desk for his signature.
:::: UPDATE ::::
Reached for comment this afternoon, Rosenthal clarified the conditions under which a driver is legally obligated to stop when they collide with something under his bill.
"If you see it -- if you're driving through a construction zone and inadvertently run over a traffic cone, you're not required to stop," Rosenthal says. "But if you're going through a construction zone and you're distracted, whether it be on your phone or looking at email -- doing stuff you shouldn't be doing in your car -- and you hit something and don't know what you hit, then it's your responsibility to stop at the nearest safe place."
"The vast majority of us know what we hit and so we wouldn't have to stop, but if we don't, it seems common sense to me we should investigate and do it in a safe manner," he continued.
Rosenthal thinks his bill could help safe lives like Anousone Phanthavong's.
"If we can get to some of these people who might've been hit while changing a tire or something, we might be able to save a life," he says.
Rosenthal's bill has the backing of organizations like MADD, the Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota, the Minnesota Sheriffs' Association, and the Minnesota County Attorneys Association.
Asked if he anticipates Governor Dayton will sign it into law, Rosenthal replies, "Absolutely."