Gov. Scott signs tougher penalties for hit-run drivers

Gov. Rick Scott signed two road-safety bills into law Tuesday.

One of the new laws (SB 102) increases the penalties for drivers who leave the scene of a crash in which a person is killed. The minimum mandatory sentence will now be four years, the same as for DUI manslaughter.

The legislation is called the Aaron Cohen Life Protection Act, in memory of a Miami cyclist who was killed by a hit-and-run driver in 2012.

The driver, Michele Traverso, served less than two years in jail for leaving the scene of a fatal accident. Had he stayed behind and been found guilty of DUI manslaughter — evidence suggested he had been drinking before the crash — his sentence would have been longer.

Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, a Miami Republican, said he sponsored the bill because there was an obvious incentive for drunk drivers to take off.

“Creating the appropriate penalties for hit-and-run drivers is the right thing to do for our state,” he said Tuesday.

Patty Cohen said she hoped her husband’s death would help make the roads safer.

“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,” she said.

Scott also signed HB 225, which strengthens state law on child safety seats.

Florida law already requires federally approved safety seats or restraining devices for children who are 3 years old or younger. The requirements will now apply to 4- and 5-year-old children, too.

Sen. Anitere Flores, the Miami Republican who sponsored the legislation, said the new law would save lives.

“I am grateful to have played a part in passing legislation that will promote the well being of Florida's youngest and protect them on the roads,” she said.

Scott has just one bill remaining on his desk.

The proposal, HB 561 by state Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami, requires the court to appoint attorneys for special-needs children if a legal guardian is not available.

The bill passed by unanimous votes in both the House and Senate.