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 sentences.
First Coast NBC News