Senate approves toughening state hit-and-run lawby John Kennedy | March 26th, 2014
The Florida Senate agreed Wednesday to toughen penalties for hit-and-run drivers by ending what officials say is a gap in state law that gives drunk drivers an incentive to flee accident scenes.
The 39-0 vote would create the “Aaron Cohen Life Protection Act,” named after a Miami man killed while bicycling on the Rickenbacker Causeway in 2012.
The driver who fatally struck Cohen, Michele Traverso was sentenced to less than a year in jail despite having driven illegally and being on probation for cocaine charges. Cohen was killed after Traverso had spent the night partying at a Coconut Grove bar.
Traverso, though, didn’t turn himself into police until 18 hours after the accident, eliminating any chance that he could be checked for DUI and risk facing the tougher, four-year sentence.
“If you are driving under the influence, there is an incentive to flee right now,” said Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami, sponsor of the measure (CS/SB 102).
The legislation, which still must clear the House, would create a four-year, minimum-mandatory prison sentence for anyone leaving the scene of an accident involving a death. It would match the current penalty for DUI involving a death.
Supporters of the legislation said that making the penalty for fleeing the scene the same as a DUI fatality might prompt motorists to stick around and call for help, providing aid that can be critical.
The Florida Highway Patrol said in 2012, an average of three people a week were killed on state roadways by a hit-and-run driver. Palm Beach County had more than 3,500 hit-and-run crashes that year.
On one day last December, three hit-and-run accidents left at least five people injured and led to three arrests in the county.