Bill Filed in Tallahassee to Toughen Penalties for Drivers Hitting Bikers

A "ghost bike" left in memory of Christophe LeCanne, another cyclist killed on the Rickenbacker.
A "ghost bike" left in memory of Christophe LeCanne, another cyclist killed on the Rickenbacker.
Photo by C. Stiles

The last time a hit-and-run driver killed a cyclist on the Rickenbacker Causeway, it sparked a new law in Tallahassee: the Aaron Cohen Life Protection Act, which toughened penalties against drivers who flee fatal accident scenes.

This week, yet another cyclist is dead and another is seriously injured after an allegedly drunk driver plowed into them on the Rickenbacker. And coincidentally, a legislator has just filed another bill in the Florida House that would add new protections for cyclists.

See also: Another Cyclist Killed in Rickenbacker Causeway Hit-and-Run

The newest legislation isn't directly connected to Wednesday's fatal crash, which left 51-year-old Walter Reyes dead; his riding partner, 40-year-old Henry Hernandez, seriously injured; and the driver, 21-year-old college student Alejandro Alvarez, facing DUI manslaughter charges.

But Reyes' death is likely to drive cycling advocates to back the measure, much as Cohen's 2012 death helped fuel the reform passed last summer.

The new bill comes via Naples Republican Rep. Kathleen Passidomo and follows a rash of near-fatal accidents on the Gulf Coast, including a gruesome case where an 84-year-old woman plowed her car into a lane of cyclists, seriously injuring five of them.

The woman reportedly lectured the wounded bikers, allegedly telling one: "I should have hit you harder." Yet she ended up with just a $1,000 fine and a yearlong license suspension even though one rider was left with a traumatic brain injury.

That case spurred Passidomo's bill, which would define cyclists -- as well as pedestrians, wheelchair users, and motorcycle riders -- as "vulnerable users." Drivers who injure anyone in that category would face stiffer penalties.

The legislation would also clarify the state's mandatory three-foot buffer between cars and bikes, making harassing a cyclist a misdemeanor and call for better training about driving near cyclists and other "vulnerable users."

"We've got to find a good way to share the road lawfully and collaboratively, as opposed to antagonistically," Passidomo tells the News-Press.

Amen to that.

Back in Miami, dozens of cyclists paid tribute to Reyes, who was the CEO of a real-estate company, and Hernandez, a lawyer, with a group ride across the Rickenbacker yesterday.

Alvarez, the driver, reportedly told police he was partying at a nightclub until nearly 5 a.m. before driving to his parents' house in Key Biscayne. He admitted he hit the cyclists while changing songs on his iPhone.

He has bonded out of jail and awaits charges of DUI manslaughter, serious bodily injury to another, leaving the scene of a crash, and DUI causing damage to property or person.

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