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State Senator Continues Fight to Make Florida Roadways Safer

Kevin Dooley via Flickr creative commons

On the heels of a recent national study ranking the Fort Myers/Cape Coral area the deadliest in the country for pedestrians, one Southwest Florida lawmaker continues to fight for tougher penalties for motorists who injure pedestrians and bicyclists. 

Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, has reintroduced a highway safety bill (SB 408) for the upcoming legislative session that aims to hold drivers more accountable if they hurt bicyclists, pedestrians or other people using the road. Under the bill, motorists could face up to $2,500 in fines if they injure what it calls a “vulnerable road user”.  Drivers would also have their licenses suspended for three months and would have to retake a driver’s exam if they’re charged with hurting or killing a vulnerable road user twice within five years.  The proposal defines the term, ‘vulnerable road users’ to also include highway workers, and people riding horses, farm tractors, horse-drawn carriages or electric mobility devices. Sen. Passidomo first introduced a version of the bill in the House in 2015.  She tried again last year as well, but the bill did not pass.  Passidomo said she was initially surprised by how controversial the bill became.

“The cyclists want to be able to ride on the streets and not be harassed, not be hit and run off the road. On the other hand, there are many cyclists who do not obey the rules of the road either so you have motorists that are frustrated,” said Sen. Passidomo.  “So what I thought was a simple bill turned into like a quagmire of issues.”

The National Complete Streets Coalition released a report last month ranking Florida the deadliest state for pedestrians.  That study finds the Fort Myers/Cape Coral region to be the deadliest metropolitan area in the country for pedestrians. 

““Not everybody likes cyclists and I understand both sides,” said Passidomo.  “But the bottom line is that if you have an altercation between a couple thousand pound vehicle and a bicycle, the person that’s going to go to the hospital is not the person in the car.”

Passidomo’s bill faces an uphill battle in the legislature. No Senate committee has placed the bill on its agenda and a House companion has not been filed.  Passidomo said even if the bill isn’t taken up this year, she’s not giving up on the issue.  “My personal feeling is I think we need to sit down with the Department of Transportation and come up with a comprehensive philosophy of, ‘How do you create a relationship between cyclists and motor vehicles starting with the premise that everybody has to follow the same basic rules of the road?’” said Passidomo.  “The other thing we need to look at is transportation corridors and when we are building roads, are we making sufficient spaces for people who want to walk, run, cycle, etcetera?

Florida’s 2017 legislative session convenes on March 7.

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