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  • Writer's pictureGeorge C. Palaidis

Try, try again: VRU protection bills again filed in Florida Legislature

Bills protecting Vulnerable Road Users (VRUs) were again filed this 2022 Florida Legislative Session, which started on January 11. You’ll remember there were prior unsuccessful attempts in 2019 and 2020.

This year House Bill 743 (Violations Against Vulnerable Road Users) and Senate Bill 1252 (Traffic Offenses) were filed in the respective chambers by the same legislators that have filed the bills in prior years: Representative Stan McClain and Senator Dennis Baxley.

Both bills are identical in the penalties they proscribe. A driver who commits a moving violation that causes serious bodily injury to a VRU would be charged with a second-degree misdemeanor (which has a maximum jail sentence of 60 days). A convicted driver would be sentenced to a minimum of 30 days in house arrest, pay a minimum fine of $1,500, attend a driver improvement course relating to the rights of VRUs, and have their driver’s license revoked for at least 30 days.

A driver who commits a moving violation that causes the death of a VRU would be charged with a first-degree misdemeanor (which has a maximum jail sentence of 1 year). A convicted driver must serve a minimum of 180 days of house arrest, pay a minimum fine of $5,000, attend the driver improvement course, and have their driver's license revoked for at least 1 year.

While the bills have a mandatory minimum sentence of 30/180 days house arrest, a judge would have the authority to sentence a driver for a longer period of either house arrest or jail (not exceeding 60 days or 1 year). A judge could also sentence a convicted driver to probation following the house arrest, against, not exceeding a total sentence of 60 days or 1 year.

The bills, however, differ only in that HB 743 defines a VRU whereas SB 1252 references section 316.027(1)(b) of the Florida Statutes for the definition of a VRU.

As defined by HB 743, a VRU can be a pedestrian, a person riding an animal, or “a person lawfully operating” a bicycle, e-bike, motorcycle, scooter, moped, skateboard, roller skates, horse-drawn carriage, wheelchair, or personal mobility device.

My concern with including “a person lawfully operating” might be used to exclude a bicyclist riding the wrong direction of traffic or one who rides outside of the bicycle lane. It would presumably absolve a driver if the bicyclist were found to have “violated” some aspect of the traffic code.

The definition of a VRU that is contained in section 316.027(1)(b), which SB 1252 uses, does not contained that qualification of “a person lawfully operating.” Instead, it applies to any person operating a bicycle, etc. That difference can make an enormous difference in the decision-making process of charging or not charging a driver.

As I’ve mentioned before, examples of moving violations (which is an element of the crime) are speeding, running red lights and stop signs, unsafe passing, failure to obey traffic signals, careless driving, improper lane change, and failing to yield. A first-time violation of the law banning texting while driving is nonmoving violation and wouldn’t qualify, but a second violation in 5 years is considered a moving violation.

Presently there is no criminal penalty for a driver who commits a moving traffic violation that results in death or serious bodily injury. In those situations, a driver may be required to serve 120 community service hours in a trauma center or hospital. In crashes involving death, the driver would be required to pay a fine of $1,000 and have their driver’s license suspended for 6 months. A driver who causes serious bodily injury in a crash would be required to pay a fine of only $500 and have their driver’s license suspended for 3 months.

We’ve seen penalties like this in Miami and Broward County for crashes that resulted in deaths of bicyclists on the Venetian Causeway and the Broward Cycling Family on State Road 84 in Davie. Passage of these bills would clearly change the landscape for drivers.

Both bills are in committees that would first need to review and pass the bills before either comes to a vote in their respective chamber. Check back for any updates.

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