Bill That Brings Down Tougher Penalties on Hit-and-Run Drivers Approved by Senate
The Florida Senate passed the Aaron Cohen Act Life Protection Act which, if it becomes a law, will make it tougher for drivers to leave the scene of a fatal bicycling accident.
The measure passed the Senate with a unanimous 39-0 vote on Wednesday.
The bill is named after Aaron Cohen, who was fatally hit by a driver while bicycling in Miami in 2012. The man who hit Cohen, Michele Traverso, was only sentenced to less than a year in jail. This despite his driving illegally and being on probation for cocaine charges.
Thanks mainly to a loop hole in the law, Traverso received a light sentence because he hadn't turned himself into police until 18 hours after he had struck Cohen. Because of this, police weren't able to conduct a DUI test, even though he had been drinking at a neighborhood bar prior to the accident.
The new law will close the loop hole, and would implement a four-year minimum mandatory prison sentence for anyone who leaves the scene of an accident that results in death, without reporting it. It's pretty much the same penalty for the usual DUI that results in death, but for accidents involving cyclists.
Drivers who leave the scene would also have their driver's license revoked for at least three years, and would be required to take driver's ed classes.
The incentive before the bill was to flee the accident and wait it out, as Traveso did following Cohen's death. Now the incentive is put on the driver to stick around, or face serious jail-time. That could also lead to drivers calling for immediate help for the injured cyclist.
Specifically, the law would require the driver to "immediately stop vehicle & remain at scene of crash."
According to the Miami Herald, the Florida Highway Patrol reported an average death by hit-and-run motorists rate of three people a week in 2012.
Last year alone, Palm Beach County saw more than 3,500 hit-and-run accidents reported.
The Aaron Cohen Act Life Protection Act must now clear the House to be made into a law. It is currently awaiting a hearing in the Economic Affairs Committee, but has had overwhelming support from both sides of the aisle ever since it was introduced in 2013.