In my article last year about the crimes, follies and misfortunes in "FloriDUH" I pointed out that the Sunshine State's car culture is just as deadly as its out-of-control firearms.
A car, van, truck, or motorcycle - like any other weapon - often heightens the owner's sense of power and lower the inhibitions. Pedestrians often take our lives in our hands when we go out for a walk in our car-happy suburbs. I take long walks for exercise, and when I cross a street I make sure to use a crosswalk, look in both directions and wait for the light to change.
This is not enough to keep some anxious motorists from looking at me as if I was intruding onto their territory. Even when the signal favors me I have to watch out for drivers who insist on going through, against the light and at my expense.
Though drive-by shootings lead television news programs, Florida's most deadly vehicle-related crimes are hit-and-run accidents. According to a 2009 study by the nonprofit group Transportation for America, four of the top ten cities with the highest rates of pedestrian fatalities are in Florida: Miami, Orlando, Tampa and Jacksonville. According to the Florida Highway Patrol, in 2012 there were nearly 70,000 hit-and-run crashes in the Sunshine State, in which nearly 17,000 people were injured and 166 people died. Three out of every five fatalities in 2012 were pedestrians struck in hit-and-run crashes.
According to the Sun-Sentinel, "in Broward, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade Counties, a hit-and-run fatality occurs weekly. Statewide, an average of 3.2 people are killed every week by a hit-and-run driver." Even when the victims survive, the effect of the hit-and-run crashes on their lives and careers are devastating. And for every human being who suffers from a hit-and-run accident, there are many partners, children, parents, siblings, relatives and friends and co-workers who suffer indirectly as well.
Just a few recent examples of hit-and-run death and injury will suffice. On March 26 in Miramar a tractor trailer fatally struck Diana Gonzalez's wheelchair and dragged her for at least a block. (The driver, Eric Ramsey, did not realize what he had done until he was flagged down by other motorists.) On April 2 in Hallandale, Gerard Roderick Hood was charged with leaving the scene of an accident after he fatally struck a man who rode on a motorized bicycle.
On April 6 in Weston a hit-and-run driver struck and seriously injured a pedestrian. Then on April 10 in the Orlando area Robert Corchado rammed his Dodge Durango into the back of a Toyota Solara driven by Albert Dean Campbell, sending Campbell's car crashing into a KinderCare day care center full of children. A dozen children were hospitalized and one, 4-year old Lily Quintus, subsequently died. Needless to say, Corchado did not stay behind to witness the mayhem that he caused.
Why are there are so many hit-and-runs? According to the Florida Car Accident Lawyer Blog, there are three main reasons:
1.) "Drivers who have something to hide. Drivers who are driving unlicensed or uninsured typically want to avoid taking responsibility for an accident because they fear jail time." Many of them also have police records. Though only 28, Corchado already has a string of arrests ranging from battery in 1999 to marijuana possession, resisting arrest, disorderly conduct, and probation violations.
2.) "Design flaws. According to Transportation for America, hit-and-run car accidents in Miami and other cities result in part from poor city planning and design. According to the group, the focus over the years has been on suburban and urban sprawl, leaving few safe spaces for walkers and bicycles." This, of course, does not excuse the guilty motorist from leaving the scene of the crime.
3.) "Distracted driving. When drivers are distracted due to mobile phones, passengers, pets, or for some other reason, they may not notice pedestrians in time. Distracted driving can easily lead to a pedestrian accident in Miami or another community."
To those reasons we should also add the use of alcohol or drugs while driving, not to mention the fact that many motorists are here illegally, temporarily, or on vacation. And while Florida makes it illegal to leave the scene of an accident without offering assistance and without exchanging contact information with the other driver, too many motorists do just that, afraid that things would be worse for them if they stayed. A drunk driver who stays behind to help gets four years in jail, but if the driver leaves the accident she or he has an opportunity to get sober and possibly avoid a jail sentence. "The law should not make it easier on you because you left the scene," said Florida State Senator Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami.
Bowing to popular demand, Diaz de la Portilla and other State Legislators have worked on a law that would increase the minimum sentences for hit-and-run accidents. Named the Aaron Cohen Life Protection Act after a bicyclist who was killed in a 2012 hit-and-run on the Rickenbacker Causeway, this is a "tough-on-crime" bill that would stiffen mandatory sentences for those who flee the scene of an accident with fatal injuries.
The bill, which passed the State Senate and is bound to pass the House, will not do away with hit-and-run crashes in Florida. But it should make some folks think twice before leaving the scene of their crimes.