Florida’s proposed new law was created in response to the hit-and-run death of a cyclist in February 2012. In that accident, an allegedly drunk driver hit a cyclist and then fled the scene. No one will ever know if the driver was drunk; he turned himself in after 24 hours and was sober at that time. As such, the driver received a 21-month jail sentence for leaving the scene (as opposed to a minimum sentence of four years for DUI manslaughter), his provable offense.
The existence of a lesser sentence for leaving the scene of an accident incentivizes those like this driver to flee after causing harm, especially if they are under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
If Florida is successful in drafting an applicable law, that incentive would be removed. Florida’s proposed legislation would increase the minimum mandatory sentence for fleeing a scene to come close to the minimum punishment for a fatal drunk driving crash. In essence, an irresponsible departure would be treated as DUI manslaughter in the event of a victim’s death. More people could face prison time because of the new law, but it sends a clear message: in the event of an accident, stay at the scene and call for help.
If Florida can revise jail sentences for fleeing an accident scene, Texas could follow suit. Would such a measure work in Texas, where drunk-driving death rates are among the highest in the U.S.? It might be worth considering.