We’ve written before about the Aaron Cohen Life Protection Act, a bill that was designed to close a loophole in Florida state law. It was signed into law June 24, potentially making the roads safer for cyclists, pedestrians, and motorists alike.
Aaron Cohen was a cyclist who was struck and killed by a car, which sped off and left him on the road. Cohen was killed by the hit-and-run, and his friend who was also hit was badly injured. But when the driver turned himself in the next day, he received less than a year in jail for the crime.
This surprisingly light sentence is even more shocking when compared to the alternative: had the same driver responsibly pulled over and waited for police, but been found guilty of DUI, Florida law would have required he spend at least four years in prison—and possibly longer.
The difference in punishments is because Florida, like many states, has gotten tougher on drunk drivers in recent years, which is a good thing. But punishments for hit-and-run deaths did not keep up, which left drunk drivers a loophole: just drive away. Wait till you sober up to turn yourself in, and you’ll get a lighter sentence.
Obviously, no state should incentivize hit-and-run behavior. When a driver flees the scene, it makes things much worse: the person they hit may lay wounded on the roadside much longer before someone sees them and calls paramedics, endangering their life. Police also have a much tougher time piecing together what happened if one side of an accident is not present, and have to invest resources in tracking down the guilty party.
That’s why the new law named in honor of Cohen is such a step forward. Now, when a driver hits and kills someone, the penalties are the same for both DUI and hit-and-run. There is no incentive to flee the scene, and no reward for doing so. This won’t change the light sentence that the driver who killed Cohen got, but it will affect an untold number of future cases and help punish hit-and-run drivers appropriately.
Seeing Governor Rick Scott sign the bill into law apparently brought a sense of closure to the grieving Cohen family. His widow, Patty Cohen, told the press, “While nothing will bring Aaron back, it gives us comfort to know that the change we have made may prevent other families from suffering as ours did.”
At Steinger, Iscoe & Greene, we echo that sentiment and urge the victims of car accidents and their families to pursue every legal recourse available to them. We’re happy to provide a free case consultation to victims of any kind of car accident.