Legislative Proposal Seeks Tougher Penalties for Drivers Who Leave the Scene of an Accident

Auto Accidents , Legal Blog , Personal Injury

A recent proposal in the Florida Senate, known as the Aaron Cohen Life Protection Act, seeks to create tougher penalties for drivers who leave the scene of a hit and run bicycle accident.  The proposed legislation is named after Aaron Cohen, a triathlete and father who was killed when he was struck by a vehicle driven by Michael Traverso in February 2012.

Investigators found evidence suggesting Traverso had been drinking before he struck Cohen. However, they were unable to test his blood alcohol level because he drove away.  Traverso was sentenced to 364 days in jail for leaving the scene of an accident, plus two years of community service. If Traverso had been found to have been driving drunk or under the influence of drugs at the time of this deadly accident, he would have received a mandatory minimum prison sentence of four (4) years under Florida’s DUI Manslaughter laws.

The Aaron Cohen Act proposes a mandatory minimum sentence of three years for drivers who leave the scene of an accident resulting in injuries. Fleeing drivers who seriously hurt or kill someone would face a mandatory seven or 10 years, respectively. They would also have to complete driver education courses about “vulnerable road users,” such as cyclists, pedestrians and emergency service workers.

Key provisions of the draft legislation include:

  • A classification of “vulnerable road users” under the law, designed to protect persons injured in accidents who are not protected by the metal exoskeleton of an automobile, such as pedestrians, cyclists, motorcyclists, police officers, first responders, road construction workers, etc.
  • An amendment to § 316.027, Florida Statutes, calling for mandatory minimum sentencing for hit and run offenders under the following tiered punishment matrix:
    • 3 years if the crash results in injury to a “vulnerable road user” as defined  by the statute;
    • 5 years if the crash results in injury to a person;
    • 7 years if the crash results in serious bodily injury, such as disfigurement or impairment of body parts; and
    • 10 years if the crash results in the death of a person.
  • A mandatory 3 year period of license revocation for all hit and run offenders.
  • A revision of § 921.022, Florida Statutes, regarding the offense severity ranking chart. Leaving the scene of a crash involving serious bodily injury would be treated as a 2nd degree felony, tantamount to aggravated assault on a police officer.

In 2012, there were nearly 70,000 hit-and-run crashes in which almost 17,000 people were injured and 166 died in the state of Florida.  In fact, three out of every five fatalities in 2012 were pedestrians struck in hit-and-run crashes.