Aaron Cohen Act Introduced to State Senate; Targets Florida Hit and Run Drivers
Eli Stiers Esq., Partner, Aronovitz Law
August 21, 2013
The Florida Legislature can enhance the safety of pedestrians and bicyclists by supporting the Aaron Cohen Law. If passed, this law would increase the penalties for leaving the scene of an accident (LSA) to be more commensurate with the penalties for DUI.
Now, we are happy to announce that Florida Senator Miguel Diaz de la Portilla this week introduced the Aaron Cohen Life Protection Act into the Florida State Senate. The proposed legislation is named after Aaron Cohen, a triathlete and father who was killed when he and cyclist Enda Walsh were struck by a vehicle driven by Michael Traverso in February 2012.
Traverso later pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of an accident (LSA), and was sentenced to only 364 days of imprisonment plus two years of community service. Under Florida’s LSA law, a driver of a vehicle involved in a crash must immediately stop their vehicle and render aid, if possible. Traverso, who was driving with a suspended license and was on probation for a drug offense, fled the scene of the accident. Rather than calling 911, he called his lawyer and turned himself in the next day.
If Traverso had been found to have been driving drunk or under the influence of drugs at the time of this deadly accident, as some believe he was, he would have received a mandatory minimum prison sentence of four (4) years under Florida’s DUI Manslaughter laws. However, Florida’s LSA law does not require a minimum mandatory prison sentence, even when the accident involves serious injury or death.
If passed, the Aaron Cohen Act would close the “punishment gap” and increase the penalties for Florida hit and run drivers to be commensurate with Florida’s DUI laws, removing the incentive for drunk drivers to flee the scene of a serious accident. Key provisions of the draft legislation include:
- A classification of “vulnerable road users” under the law, designed to protect persons injured in accidents who are not protected by the metal exoskeleton of an automobile, such as pedestrians, cyclists, motorcyclists, police officers, first responders, road construction workers, etc.
- An amendment to Florida statute 316.027, calling for mandatory minimum sentencing for hit and run offenders under the following tiered punishment matrix:
o 3 years if the crash results in injury to a “vulnerable road user” as defined by the statute;
o 5 years if the crash results in injury to a person;
o 7 years if the crash results in serious bodily injury, such as disfigurement or impairment of body parts.
o 10 years if the crash results in the death of a person
- A mandatory 3 year period of license revocation for all hit and run offenders
- A revision of Florida statute 921.022, regarding the offense severity ranking chart. Leaving the scene of a crash involving serious bodily injury would be treated as a 2nd degree felony, tantamount to aggravated assault on a police officer.
In addition to Florida State Senator Diaz de la Portilla, other supporters of the new law include Florida State Senator Rene Garcia, Florida State Representative Irv Slosberg, and Miami-Dade Commissioner Jose “Pepe” Diaz, who has led the charge for the passage of this act locally.