Are protections for 'Vulnerable Road Users' finally coming to Florida?
There are identical bills in both the House and Senate of the Florida Legislature this session that would for the first time provide meaningful protection and justice for pedestrians and bicyclists injured and killed in crashes with automobiles.
House Bill 71, filed by Representative Stan McClain, and Senate Bill 158, filed by Senator Dennis Baxley, seek to create a new traffic statute that would be called the “Vulnerable Road User Act.” The new law would provide criminal penalties for drivers who seriously injure or kill a vulnerable road user while committing a traffic moving violation.
Who is a ‘Vulnerable Road User’?
The bills provide a long list of who is a 'Vulnerable Road User' (VRU) that includes pedestrians, bicyclists, motorcyclists, people on scooters or mopeds, and those riding an animal. The bills further provide that a VRU can also be someone on a skateboard, roller skates, or a wheelchair (electric or not) while on a public right of way, crosswalk or shoulder of a roadway. The full list can be seen on the links above.
What would it criminalize?
First things first, the bills would provide criminal penalties for traffic moving violations. Some examples of moving violations are speeding, running red lights and stop signs, unsafe passing, failure to obey traffic signals, careless driving, improper lane change, and failure to yield.
These bills would not affect the current law, or the proposed bills, seeking to ban texting while driving, which is, and would remain if passed, punishable as a nonmoving traffic violation. For example, if a driver crashed into a VRU while texting, this proposed law would not apply and would not provide any punishment.
What would be the penalties?
The bills categorize the new penalties between causing serious bodily injury and death. Serious bodily injury under Florida law is defined as an “injury to any person…which consists of a physical condition that creates a substantial risk of death, serious personal disfigurement, or protracted loss or impairment of the function of any bodily member or organ.”
If a driver commits a moving violation and causes serious bodily injury to a VRU, that driver would be committing a 2nd degree misdemeanor, which can carry a jail sentence of up to 60 days and 6 months of probation. The bills would also add a minimum $1,500 fine, a minimum 30 days on house arrest, require a driver improvement course, and at least a 30 day revocation of the driver’s license.
If a driver commits a moving violation and causes the death of a VRU, that driver would be committing a 1st degree misdemeanor, which can carry a jail sentence up to 1 year in jail and/or probation. The bills would also add a minimum $5,000 fine, minimum 180 days on house arrest, require a driver improvement course, and at least a 1 year revocation of the driver’s license.
The bills are a serious first step in adding protections for VRUs, which haven’t previously existed in Florida. At present, it appears only 5 states have strong VRU laws, and Florida may be added as the sixth. For a state that lags behind the rest of the nation in protecting pedestrians, cyclists, and other VRUs, this is an important step forward.
Where are the bills now?
At present, SB 158 has been referred to the Infrastructure and Security Committee; Appropriations Subcommittee on Criminal and Civil Justice; and the Appropriations Committee. HB 71 has been referred to the Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee; State Affairs Committee; and Criminal Justice Subcommittee.