As one of the most dangerous states for bicyclists, Florida is starting to hammer down on it’s hit-and-run laws. According to the Alliance for Biking & Walking’s 2014 Benchmarking Report, Florida has the highest rate of bicycle and pedestrian fatalities. Because of this statistic, and recent accidents, the Sunshine State is proof that change needs to occur, so that cyclists and pedestrians can feel safe on the roads.
Related: A Quick Guide to Safe City Cycling
After husband, and father of two, Aaron Cohen was killed in a hit and run during a morning ride by a drunk driver, a group of Florida residents started a grassroots effort committed to bringing harsher penalties and changing the law so that their are real consequences to Leaving the Scene of an Accident (LSA). Their message: “STAY. Do the RIGHT thing. STAY on the scene.”
Recently, according to local news station, Broward Palm Beach New Times, Florida Governor Rick Scott held a ceremonial bill signing to pay respects to Aaron Cohen and others lost, with the Aaron Cohen Life Protection Act. The law officially went into effect on July 1.
Previously, the penalty for fleeing a scene of a hit and run involving death was a sentence between 21 months and 30 years. In the case of Aaron Cohen, the hit and run driver, Michele Traverso, turned himself into the police the next day, after it was impossible to make a drunk driving case, and was given less than a year in jail. It was then that activists started to work to put new legislation in place.
The solution is closing the gap between the crimes of DUI Manslaughter and Leaving the Scene of an Accidental death. Hopefully, this will remove the violators incentive to flee the scene. The proposal (SB102) makes the follow changes:
-Creates a minimum mandatory sentence of 4 years for LSA/death (with allowance for downward departure by the court when mitigating factors exist).
- Increases the existing minimum mandatory sentence from 2 to 4 years for LSA/death with DUI.
- Defines “Vulnerable Road User” (VRU) and creates a VRU enhancer in the criminal punishment code (level 5 to Level 6 for LSA/injury when victim is a VRU; Level 6 to Level 7 for LSA/serious injury when victim is VRU; Level 7 to Level 8 for LSA/death when victim is VRU).
- Requires a 3-year revocation of the offender's driver’s license and prior to reinstatement, a driver’s education course on the rights of CRUs.
Time will tell if the Act can create safer streets in Florida, and create a more desirable place to ride for cyclists. Cycling is an activity that should be enjoyed by all, and the fear of motor vehicles should not prevent those from taking out their bikes and going for a ride. Steps towards safer streets, such as the activism of The Aaron Cohen Life Protection Plan, is one of the important ways the community can make a difference in making cycling a more desirable form of transportation.