A Florida legislator is attempting to close a legal loophole that acts as an incentive for some drivers to flee the scene of an accident. The move is in response to an alarming increase in fatal hit and run accidents in South Florida, according to the Sun-Sentinel.
In August 2013, state Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla (R-Miami) introduced the Aaron Cohen Life Protection Act. The legislation would hand down harsher mandatory penalties for drivers who leave the scene of an accident involving serious bodily harm or injury. If passed, the Act would make such actions a second-degree felony. The law currently classifies this as a third-degree felony.
The Act is named for bicyclist Aaron Cohen, 36, killed on February 15, 2012, in a hit and run accident on the Rickenbacker Causeway in Miami. The driver in that case – Michele Traverso – fled the scene of the accident. He did not turn himself in until the following day.
Investigators believed Traverso had been drinking prior to the accident, but there were no blood or breath test results to verify the claim. Traverso – who admitted to driving on a suspended license – was later sentenced to a 364-day jail term.
Closing a Loophole in Florida’s Hit and Run Laws
Current Florida state statutes provide a harsher mandatory penalty for drivers who cause a fatal drunk driving accident than they do for drivers who commit a hit and run. This establishes a “punishment gap” that inadvertently encourages intoxicated drivers to leave the scene of an accident rather than facing a potential DUI charge.
In such cases, a driver may turn himself or herself in after the alcohol has had a chance to “clear the system.” This driver, in turn, would be charged with a lesser degree of crime.
If successful, the act will establish the following mandatory sentencing:
- three years imprisonment for a driver who leaves the scene of an accident;
- seven years imprisonment for a driver who leaves a crash scene involving serious injury; and
- ten years imprisonment for leaving the scene of a fatal crash.
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But despite the increase in penalties, attorney Jason Chalik isn’t so sure it will curb hit and runs. “I don’t think that legislation will solve this problem. People get scared and run. Of course if you have had too much to drink you might wait until your blood alcohol level is in a legal range.” He also notes how devastating these accidents can be for families, and suggests that “it would be helpful to educate witnesses to write down info or use their cell phones to photograph people leaving a scene.”
Hit and Run Accidents in Florida: A Growing Public Safety Hazard
The Florida Highway Patrol reports there were nearly 70,000 hit and run accidents in 2012 in the state. The number of fatalities rose from 162 in 2011 to 168 in 2012. Roughly three out of five fatal hit and runs involved pedestrian victims. The issue is especially common in South Florida, according to the Sun-Sentinel’s report.
The Sun-Sentinel stated that in 2011-2012, a total of 92 fatal hit and run accidents occurred in:
- Miami-Dade; and
- Palm Beach counties.
What should I do if I’ve been injured or lost a loved one in a hit and run?
Chalik & Chalik represents victims of hit and run accidents throughout Florida. Schedule a free case consultation to learn more about your rights. Call our offices at 855-529-0269.