Lawmakers push for stricter hit-and-run laws

Published On: Feb 19 2014 04:47:28 PM EST
Updated On: Feb 19 2014 08:23:15 PM EST
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -

A loophole in Florida law gives drunken drivers an incentive to run if they are in a fatal accident, but state lawmakers are closing in on hit-and-run drivers and the loophole that's letting them off the hook.

In 2012 there were more than 70,000 hit-and-run accidents in Florida. Experts say a vast majority who flee the scene of an accident have been drinking and go home to sober up.

"Eighty percent of all hit-and-runs are DUI," said Helen Witty, with Mothers Against Drunk Driving. "That's huge. We need to stop that."

Killing someone while driving drunk carries a four-year minimum sentence in state prison. But there are no minimum sentences for someone who isn't drunk. Advocates say the discrepancy is a loophole being used far too often.

"People are able to leave the scene of a crash, go home and metabolize the alcohol, turn themselves in later and the evidence is gone. There's no DUI," said Sally Matson, with MADD.

According to records, on average, just over three people are killed by a hit-and-run driver every week in Florida.

Aaron Cohen was killed riding his bike on a Miami Causeway. The driver fled and later admitted he'd been drinking, but prosecutors couldn't prove he was drunk. The death inspired State Sen. Miquel Diaz-de-la-Portia to file legislation.

"I couldn't believe it," Diaz-de-la-Portia said. "I mean, I really couldn't imagine that the law would create an incentive for people to hit-and-run."

That legislation cleared a Senate Committee by a vote of 9-0. It has one more committee stop before it is ready for debate by the full Senate.

Bicyclists and motorcyclists are backing the bill. In addition to a minimum penalty, the legislation defines a vulnerable person as someone who's not in a car, and ups the penalties by a notch if someone hits them and flees.

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