Florida finally passed a law this year that enhances the penalties for drivers who seriously injure or kill a vulnerable road user like a pedestrian or bicyclist. As I’ve covered before, bills that would have provided enhanced penalties in these cases have consistently failed in the Florida legislature in 2019, 2020, and 2022. But we now have a victory for our side. So, we should cheer this victory, but as you’ll see, a lot was left on the table.  

WHAT ARE THE PENALTY ENHANCEMENTS

Beginning July 1, 2024, if a driver seriously injures a vulnerable road user (VRU) while also committing some other moving traffic violation (like speeding or running a red light), that driver must pay at least a $1,500 fine and have their license suspended for 90 days. A driver that kills a vulnerable road user while committing a moving traffic violation must pay at least a $5,000 fine and have their license suspended for 1 year. In both situations, the driver is also required to complete a driver improvement course that focuses on the rights of vulnerable road users.

For these enhancements to apply, a driver must be cited by an officer for committing a moving traffic violation during the crash that seriously injured or killed the vulnerable road user. Then, a county court judge must hold a non-jury trial to determine whether the driver committed the moving violation against the vulnerable road user before convicting the driver of that traffic violation and assessing the new enhanced penalties.  

WHO DOES THIS PROTECT

Florida law has long defined vulnerable road users as pedestrians, bicyclists, motorcyclists, people on scooters or mopeds, those riding an animal, skateboarders, roller skaters, or people in wheelchairs. That definition, located in a statute dealing with drivers leaving the scenes of crashes, will now also apply to these new enhancements.  

These enhancements come at a time when traffic deaths and injuries have steadily increased in Florida. In 2023, there were 1,008 crashes involving the death of a bicyclist or pedestrian, with over 16,000 involving injuries. That’s an increase from 2022 when there were 1,006 deaths and over 14,000 injuries.

HOW FAR DOES THIS LAW GO IN PROTECTING US

Enhanced penalties for drivers existed before House Bill 1133 (2024) was passed. Those enhanced penalties applied to drivers who killed or seriously injured anyone, whether it be another driver, passenger, or vulnerable road user. HB 1133 now makes specific, albeit slight, enhancements in cases involving vulnerable road users, while the prior penalties still apply in cases where the injured/deceased person is another driver or vehicle passenger.

Previously, a driver would face a $1,000 fine and a 6-month license suspension for death and a $500 fine with a 3-month license suspension for serious bodily injury. The biggest enhancement with the new law is in cases involving death, where the fine was increased by at least $4,000, the suspension increased by 6 months, and now a driver improvement course has been added. In cases involving serious bodily injury, the enhancements were nominally increased by at least $1000 for the fine and the driver improvement course. The 3-month suspension, unfortunately, remained untouched.

WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN

When the proposed bill was first filed, drivers would have faced serious consequences for killing or seriously injuring a vulnerable road user. For serious injuries, a driver would have been charged with a second-degree misdemeanor and, upon conviction, required to serve a minimum of 30 days on house arrest, take a driver improvement course, have their license revoked for 30 days, and pay at least a $1,500 fine.  

Drivers charged with killing a vulnerable road user while committing another moving violation would have been charged with a first-degree misdemeanor, serve a minimum of 180 days on house arrest, take a driver improvement course, pay at least a $5000 fine, and have their license revoked for 1 year.

The maximum penalty for a second-degree misdemeanor is 60 days in county jail with up to 6 months of probation, and for a first-degree misdemeanor, one year in jail/probation.

There is also a difference between having a license suspended and revoked. As the bill was first worded, a license revocation is much more serious and would have required the driver to apply for a new license, which could take years and be denied. A suspension only requires a driver to apply for reinstatement once the term ends.

IS THIS THE MOST THAT COULD HAVE BEEN DONE

Adding these enhanced penalties in cases where a driver has seriously injured or killed a vulnerable road user is an important step in helping curb driver behavior, but the Flordia Legislature could have gone further. There are already other traffic offenses on the books that carry far more serious penalties. For example, a driver racing someone off the line at a stop light faces a first-degree misdemeanor with a 1-year suspension of their license. No death, no serious injury, just road racing.

VICTORY, BUT WE’RE NOT FINISHED

It would be a mistake not to cheer this progress in protecting the rights of vulnerable road users. But we can’t ignore what could have been and what could still be done. We have a taste of what our legislators can provide, so we must now demand more of them. It has been done before, and it can be done again.

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