Florida bills address road safety concerns

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Multiple bills up for consideration at the Florida statehouse address safety concerns on the state’s roadways.

The first bill would create tougher penalties for drivers who leave the scene after striking people alongside roadsides or while crossing roadways.

Florida law authorizes a mandatory minimum sentence of two years for incidents of driving under the influence that result in death.

The Senate Transportation and Highway Safety Subcommittee voted unanimously to approve a bill that would double the amount of prison time to four years for leaving the scene of a crash with fatalities.

Supporters say the rule is needed because drunken drivers have every incentive to leave the scene of wrecks. They say drivers who wait to sober up before turning themselves in face far less jail time.

“There’s a gap in Florida’s hit-and-run laws,” Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami, testified to the panel. “This proposal closes the gap in existing law by making the penalties of DUI manslaughter and leaving the scene of an accident resulting in death proportionate thereby it removes the incentive to flee.”

SB102 awaits further consideration in the Senate Criminal Justice Committee.

Another bill would expand the types of vehicles covered under the state’s existing “Move Over” law. Drivers in the state already are required to slow down and shift lanes if possible to make room for police, ambulance and fire personnel alongside roadsides.

HB469 would include utility service vehicles in the protected list. It awaits consideration in two House subcommittees and one House committee.

One more bill approved by the Senate Transportation Committee would provide emergency responders with access to critical medical information in the moments following vehicle wrecks.

Sen. Joseph Abruzzo, D-Palm Beach, said the bill would enable counties throughout the state to seek funding and grants to set up a yellow dot decal program to help ensure proper medical treatment in situations where wreck victims may not be able to speak or are otherwise unresponsive.

Participation in the program would be voluntary and free.

Similar opt-in programs are available in more than 20 states, including Connecticut, New York and Pennsylvania.

The Florida program would provide emergency responders with critical health information for drivers who sign up for the program.

Program materials would include a yellow decal for the window, a health information card, a yellow envelope, and program instructions.

Supporters say that the first moments following a serious wreck are crucial, especially when someone has unique medical needs.

SB262 awaits further consideration in the Senate Community Affairs Committee.

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