Hit-and-runs facing stiffer penalties?

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Every year, tens of thousands of hit-and-run accidents happen in Florida. Now some lawmakers are looking to stiffen penalties.

Cyclists riding down Florida roads are often faced with drivers not paying attention.

"Oh yeah, I've been hit twice by cars here in town," cyclist Jack Tomassetti said.

Tomassetti has been riding for 12 years. He said it's essential for all cyclists to be aware of their surroundings.

"For the cars, just know we're out there," he said.

New legislation is being considered to protect cyclists. It would strengthen laws protecting vulnerable road users, including cyclists.

The bill is being introduced after the 2012 death of 36-year-old Aaron Cohen in South Florida. The driver involved in the accident fled the scene and turned himself in later, investigators said. Some believe the driver was drinking and turned himself in after sobering up.

The legislation would enforce mandatory minimums. One of those mean everyone involved in a hit-and-run accident would lose their driver's license for three years.

"Any time there is a change for behavior, that's good for people who are on the road, especially bikes or pedestrians," defense attorney Ethan Way said. "It's going to be good."

Way said he supports stronger laws protecting cyclists but worries the law would prosecute the wrong people.

"You could end up in a situation where people who have a potential legitimate reaction, an unlawful reaction, like of fear, might be caught in the net," Way said.

The Legislature would make hit-and-runs with serious injury a second-degree felony, punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

A committee hearing begins the week of Sept. 23.

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