Florida has been ranked as the number two deadliest state in the nation
for cyclists, walkers and other pedestrians for several consecutive years.
In the year of 2012, Florida recorded at least 70,000 hit-and-run crashes,
17,000 of which resulted in serious injuries and 166 resulting in fatalities.
The recent high-profile death of triathlete Aaron Cohen in Miami has prompted
new legislation targeting drivers who hit someone and leave the scene.
Aaron Cohen, age 36 and a father of two, was riding his bike on a Miami
area causeway last year when an alleged drunk driver hit him. Cohen died
on the scene of the accident. The driver sped away and did not turn himself
in until the next day. This incident is eerily similar to the circumstances
surrounding another hit and run accident in which Rob Lemon and his girlfriend
Hillary Michalak died after being hit while riding their tandem bicycle
near Clearwater Beach.
In the Cohen case, the driver was not charged with DUI the next day. As
a result, the driver was able to obtain a shorter sentence of one year
in jail. Prosecutors had hoped to send him to prison for six years.
Representative Eddy Gonzalez, R-Hialeah, thinks that entire scenario is
unfair and wrong. Gonzalez is working with Aaron Cohen’s family
and co-sponsoring legislation designed to increase the minimum penalties
for hit-and-run drivers who hurt or kill cyclists, pedestrians, and others
on the side of the road.
“Nobody should be left on the side of the road. What you should do
if something like that happens is stop your car and try to help them.
Call 9-1-1 and do what’s right. You’ve got to think that that
could be one of your family members that just got hit.”
The “Aaron Cohen Life Protection Act” proposes that hit-and-run drivers serve a mandatory three-year
prison term if they are caught leaving the scene of an accident involving
a pedestrian, cyclist, motorcyclist, road worker, or police officer.
In addition to the minimum three year provision, the driver can receive
a minimum of seven years if the victim is seriously injured and 10 years
if a fatality results. The Act also proposes revocation of the guilty
driver’s motor vehicle license for a minimum of three years. Gonzalez
believes that tough new minimum sentences are likely to change drivers’
attitudes about leaving the scene of a crash. Now, the penalties for leaving
the scene would be more severe than those associated with DUI-related charges.
“It’s got to be very painful to the family,” says Gonzalez.
“So we figure we have to put something in place that won’t
just be a slap on the hand. That people will think about it twice before
leaving the scene of an accident.”
The bill also effectively establishes a “Vulnerable Road User”
category. As mentioned, this category applies the minimum sentencing stipulations
to any hit and run accident involving cyclists, pedestrians, motorcyclists,
road workers and police officers. Any driver who hits a “vulnerable
road user” and flees the scene would face the mandatory minimum
First Coast NBC News