Legislation
9:26 am
Tue January 7, 2014

Drunk Drivers Could Lose Incentive To Flee Crash Scenes

Credit Lan Bui via Flickr

A substantial rewrite of the Florida hit-and-run law is on its way to the Florida legislature thanks largely to friends of a Miami bicyclist who was killed in traffic two years ago. The new law removes what some consider an incentive for drunk drivers to flee the scene.

Aaron Cohen was mowed down and killed on the Rickenbacker Causeway in February, 2012, and the driver who hit him may have been drunk. Nobody knows. Michele Traverso fled the scene of the crash and didn't turn himself in for 24 hours, after which - if he had been drunk - he wasn't anymore. Instead of a minimum of four years for DUI manslaughter, he got 21 months in jail for leaving the scene. Bicyclist Enda Walsh was with Cohen the day he died.

"There is a clear incentive for people who get involved in accidents in south Florida, if their circumstances are dodgy in any respect, there's an incentive for them to flee the scene", Walsh said.

Miami's active bicycle movement got on the case, and the result is a bill that the legislature will take up this spring. It increases the minimum mandatory sentence for fleeing the scene to more closely match the minimum punishment for a drunk driving crash that kills somebody. Miami lawyer Eli Stiers , also a cyclist, helped draft the bill.

"The incentive will be removed to flee the scene and those people will be treated the same as a DUI manslaughter", Stiers said. "It will be a four year minimum mandatory."

The law will be harsher, and send more people to prison. But Enda Walsh says the intent is much larger.

"The purpose is not to lock people up", said Walsh. "The purpose is to get people to stay on the scene and dial 911."

Aaron Cohen, a 35 year old father of two, was one of 168 fatalities in nearly 70,000 hit-and-run crashes in Florida in 2012. The bill is sponsored by Miami-area senators Miguel Diaz de la Portilla and Rene Garcia. They call it the Aaron Cohen Life Protection Act.