Florida Legislators Pass Law With Tougher Punishment for Hit-and-Run Accidents

We've all been there: You're riding your bike, walking on the street, or simply driving and out of nowhere some South Florida speed demon almost runs you down in his or her car.

According to unfortunate statistics from the state, it's more likely now than ever that the offending driver will take off after an accident. In 2012, there were 70,000 hit-and-run accidents. The kicker: There's little incentive in the law for the people responsible to stick around, especially when they've killed or seriously injured someone.

This week, both houses of the Florida Legislature passed a bill that will change all that.

The Aaron Cohen Life Protection Act takes its name from the 36-year-old father of two killed in a hit-and-run accident on the Rickenbacker Causeway in February 2012. After the accident, a collision of bike activists and lawyers began hammering together a new law that would impose harsher penalties on people who flee.

The proposal imposed a four-year minimum prison sentence for drivers who run from accidents involving death (for more info on how this glitch in the law has basically led to drivers getting away with murder, check out next week's print edition of New Times).

"I can't even tell you the countless number of people -- legislators, politicians, regular people -- who we've talked about this issue to who have known somebody who's been involved in a hit-and-run or something close," explains Mickey Witte, a Miami bike activist who helped get the legislation going after the driver who killed Cohen got off with a sentence of one year in jail.

"That guy got such a slap on the wrist," Witt says, echoing the frustration of many who've since heard about the case. "Where is the justice?"

In March, the Senate version of the bill, sponsored by Miami's Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, passed unanimously. Late Tuesday, the Florida House passed its version. The proposal now goes to Gov. Rick Scott. It's an important step for protecting drivers, pedestrians, and bike riders.

Again, check out next week's New Times for a more in-depth at Florida's hit-and-run culture and the impact this new law could have.

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Kyle Swenson
Contact: Kyle Swenson