Florida is commonly named among states with the highest reported instances
of hit-and-run crashes, and it's no mystery that South Florida leads
the state. Out of about 70,000 total crashes in 2012, almost a third of
those accidents, or about 23,000, involved a hit-and-run victim in Miami
Dade, Broward, or Palm Beach County, according to data from the Florida
Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (FHSMV).
Compare that figure to the 11,800 reported hit-and-run accidents in 2004,
and you've got a thirty-percent increase in less than ten years.
There is a much
overdue piece of legislation that addresses what lawmakers and police have called a "punishment
gap". In Florida (as it is in many other states), the penalties for
being convicted of a DUI are much harsher than those of "fleeing
the scene of an accident", one of several formal charges a hit-and-run
driver might face. If there are no injuries or fatalities, a drunk driver
actually realizes an incentive for fleeing – the conviction of a
lesser crime (fleeing the scene versus a DUI).
A Republican Florida Senator named Miguel Diaz de a Portilla from Miami
introduced the "Aaron Cohen Life Protection Act", a bill that
shores up this disparity, effectively eliminating that incentive to flee
by making the consequences for leaving the scene of an accident much stiffer.
The bill is named after a bicyclist who was killed by a hit-and-run driver
on a Miami highway. Governor Rick Scott has since signed the bill into law.
This past December, however, the
Sun Sentinel reported, it was a particularly bloody month: six people were killed in the tri-county
area of South Florida by hit-and-run drivers.
As this phenomenon continues to grow, and people continue to be maimed
and killed in South Florida by irresponsible, criminal drivers, what does
it take to keep you and your family safe on the roadways? Here are five
tips to follow from our
personal injury lawyers.
Be a defensive driver.
Being a defensive driver means that while you're behind the wheel,
you are constantly watching for erratic or dangerous drivers, and actively
avoiding them. Stay off your cell phone while driving, and avoid other
distractions, like GPS navigation, or fiddling with the car radio. A common
type of hit-and-run is the "fender-bender" – an avoidable
accident that occurs when a distracted driver collides with the back of
your vehicle. Always be watching your rear-view mirror for speeding or
"tailgating" by drivers behind you.
Be a vigilante.
Being a good driver also means watching out for other good drivers who
find themselves in a collision with someone who is intent on fleeing the
accident scene. Regardless of how "serious" the collision seems,
if you witness a driver fleeing the scene of an accident, do whatever
is within your means to obtain that fleeing driver's license plate
number. Palm Beach County Sherriff's officers would not recommend
you pursue the criminal any further – if you can get that tag number,
they can handle it from there. Try to remember to get the best description
of the car you can remember. Do not call the police while you are in pursuit.
Instead, as soon as you can get the tag number and a description, pull
over to put in a call to 911.
Be an aware pedestrian.
About two-fifths of all fatal hit-and-run
accidents in Florida involved a pedestrian. This is an incredibly sad, but common tragedy. By no means are we to
assume that those who have lost their lives in pedestrian hit-and-run
accidents were not acting safety. It is important, though, to be reminded
of some basic, obvious precautions. Cross streets only at intersections,
and use the designated cross-walk. This is especially important at night,
or on poorly-illuminated roads. Avoid crossing major roads like Okeechobee
Blvd at any point other than the designated cross-walk. Finally, don't
take unnecessary risks – wait until the road is completely clear.
Pedestrian accidents can easily occur when a pedestrian fails to see a
vehicle approaching because it was in the blind spot of a visible vehicle.
Avoid driving on busy holiday nights.
There is an obvious correlation between hit-and-run vehicles and impaired
drivers that has been made by many state highway vehicle safety researchers,
including FHSMV. A large percentage of hit-and-run perpetrators are later
caught and charged with a DUI (we'll explain how and why in the next
point). Avoid being on the roadways during holidays and high-traffic times
and you can significantly cut down on the risk of being hit by a drunk
Purchase Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist Coverage.
Uninsured or Underinsured Motorist Coverage (UM) is a specific benefit
that you can purchase along with your state-required PIP and bodily injury
coverage. If you have UM coverage, your insurer will pay you for damages
in the event that you sustain injury or property damage as a result of
a collision with a hit-and-run driver. UM is an additional benefit to
bodily injury coverage, which acts as the personal injury protection (PIP)
coverage you would otherwise be entitled to by the other driver's
insurance. If you're hit by someone who doesn't carry insurance,
or who flees, you are out of luck and unfortunately, on your own. The
best part about UM coverage is that it doesn't cost very much. That's
why UM coverage is a no-brainer to carry, especially for everyday Florida drivers.
If you or someone you love has been injured or killed in a hit-and-run
accident as a driver, a bicyclist, or a pedestrian, call our office today
to speak confidentially with a personal injury lawyer. You may be entitled
to compensation for lost wages, pain and suffering, or medical bills.
Call us at 561-444-4440 today.