Florida lawmakers are looking into making the state’s roads safer for cyclists and pedestrians. A bill before the legislature would increase fines for at-fault drivers for hitting “vulnerable road users.”
Naples resident Tish Kelly says her husband was badly injured last year after a driver hit him while he and others were riding their bicycles. She says she hopes a bill under consideration this session forces drivers to be more responsible on the road.
“He’s still pretty much crippled. He’s also an attorney in town, in Naples, where I came from. And the perpetrator was given a moving violation and a $175 fine and my husband still isn’t doing well to this day,” Kelly says.
The Florida House is considering HB231, which would increase penalties for drivers who hit cyclists and pedestrians. The bill passed the House’s subcommittee on Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles Wednesday. The proposal’s sponsor, Republican Representative Kathleen Passidomo of Naples, argues lawmakers should hold motorists more accountable for their behavior on Florida’s roads. She tried to have an amendment adopted that would make these accidents felonies.
“If an individual kills somebody carelessly and then gets back on the …oh, by the way, he was also cited for driving without a license…he killed another person. If that’s not a felony, I don’t think anything is,” Passidomo says.
The committee voted down the amendment. And while most committee members are supportive of better protections for cyclists and pedestrians, Gainesville Republican Keith Perry says he believes the bill takes the wrong approach to handle a real problem. Perry says most crashes with bicycles aren’t intentional.
“The reality is people on the road aren’t looking for bicyclists and motorcyclists and so the majority of those accidents—according to their studies and their data—shows that people just don’t see it until it’s too late,” Perry says.
CDC studies show many car accidents involving bicycles happen because of drunk driving. And Republican Representative Ron Renuart of Ponte Vedra says the bill would function better once certain technical aspects are defined.
“We need to further define what is a substandard lane … maybe something toward ten feet. Bicycle lanes five feet seems a bit excessive maybe three feet. If you can find out what the standards are that would be helpful,” Renuart says.
Passidomo’s proposal outlines rules for proper passing and increases punishments on drivers who hit quote “vulnerable road users.” The bill would also impose a fine of $2,000 to drivers who cause these accidents. It also criminalizes taunting and harassing cyclists. Passidomo says her bill could save lives.
“Right now if a cyclist is hit by a car unless they are killed or unless they leave the scene of the accident, there is no penalty at all,” Passidomo says.
Passidomo’s bill would follow a similar one approved last year. The Aaron Cohen Life Protection Act—named for a Miami man who was killed on bicycle in 2012—forces drivers who hit cyclists to remain on the scene until authorities arrive. The law closed a loophole that lessens the penalty for hit-and-run drivers who flee crash scenes to avoid consequences.