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New Law Toughens Penalties for Hit-and-Run Accidents

Posted by copeland on August 20, 2014

Bike in traffic

Being the victim of an automobile crash is tough enough. But when the driver who causes the accident in the first place bolts the scene, it can be a doubly difficult experience. Fortunately, a new Florida law may help curb hit-and-run accidents with stiffer punishments doled out to those guilty of smashing and dashing.

Statistics from the Florida Highway Patrol show that in 2012, there were upward of 70,000 hit-and-run car crashes statewide. They resulted in 17,000 people being injured and 166 deaths. In fact, 60 percent of traffic-related fatalities in Florida that year were pedestrians or cyclist struck in hit-and-run crashes.

Among them was Aaron Cohen, a 36-year-old father of two and bicycling enthusiast killed in a hit-and-run accident on Miami's Rickenbacker Causeway. Eighteen hours later, 26-year-old Michele Traverso turned himself into police. Soon, police confirmed that Traverso had hit Cohen while driving home after six hours of partying at a Coconut Grove bar, then left the scene and hid his banged up car beneath a tarp. To make matters worse, Traverso was driving with a suspended license and was on probation for cocaine charges at the time of the accident.

Despite the allegations, Traverso was sentenced to less than a year in jail and just two years of house arrest in January, 2013. And, he ultimately walked free just 264 days later - 100 days short of serving his full 364-day jail sentence. That's when Cohen's family and friends, along with an impassioned group of bicycling activists and attorneys went to work hammering out what would become the Aaron Cohen Life Protection Act.

The act was designed to combat a gap in Florida law between DUI manslaughter and leaving the scene of an accident (LSA). Under Florida law, drivers under the influence who kill someone receive a minimum mandatory sentence of four years in prison. But those who commit LSA until now have faced far lighter sentences. So, many drunk or otherwise impaired drivers simply flee the scene, believing that once the tell-tale effects of alcohol or other drugs have worn off and can't be proven, they're likely to face lesser penalties.

As proposed, the Aaron Cohen Life Protection Act brings about four important changes:

  1. It creates a minimum mandatory 4-year sentence for LSA involving death (though there is an allowance for lesser penalties when a court determines mitigating factors apply); 
  2. It increases the prior minimum mandatory sentence from two years to four years for LSA/death with DUI; 
  3. It defines the legal term "Vulnerable Road User" and creates a multi-level criminal punishment code for those whose actions harm these VRUs; 
  4. It requires a 3-year revocation of the offender's driver's license and mandates that offenders take a driver's education course on the rights of VRUs before their licenses are reinstated.

The law passed the Florida Legislature unanimously and Governor Rick Scott signed the Aaron Cohen Life Protection Act into law in a South Florida ceremony in July. If you or someone you love is the victim of a hit-and-run accident, know that auto accident and bicycle accident attorneys with Orlando's Todd E. Copeland & Associates want to help make sure you get the justice and compensation you deserve. Reach us at 407-999-8995 or via our online contact form.