Early one morning last October, Joyce Sanders and her husband Jim were taking a walk near their home in Sarasota. Because the sprinklers came on, they decided to leave the sidewalk for the bike lane. A pickup truck hit Joyce and then sped away. Joyce died on the scene.Earlier this month, Chad DuBose was walking in Sebring when he was hit by a truck, then left the scene. Fortunately, DuBose only suffered minor injuries.

Hit-and-run accidents are skyrocketing, according to an article in the Tampa Tribune. The state had over 84,000 hit-and-run accidents last year alone, the Florida Highway Patrol reports. Hit-and-run accidents involving fatalities in Florida increased 23 percent from 2013 to 2014, with about half of the victims being pedestrians.

Hillsborough County had 4,304 hit-and-run accidents including 130 involving pedestrians in 2014.

Pinellas County had 4,410 hit-and-run accidents including 107 involving pedestrians.

Pasco County had 1,573 hit-and-run accidents including 42 involving pedestrians.

The Florida Highway Patrol (FHP) recently launched a statewide education campaign about hit-and-run crashes. The goal is to let drivers know that if they do leave the scene of an accident, they could face serious consequences.

Last year, Governor Rick Scott signed a law that stiffened the penalties for hit-and-run drivers. Now, leaving an accident scene is a second-degree felony, which results in a mandatory minimum four-year sentence for a conviction.

Under the Aaron Cohen Life Protection Act – named for a bicyclist who was hit and killed by a driver – drivers who leave an accident could have their license revoked for three years as well. If the driver was under the influence of drugs or alcohol and there was a fatality, the mandatory minimum sentence is increased from two to four years.

“Leaving the scene makes the situation worse, not only for those who flee, but even more so for the victims left behind,” said Terry L. Rhodes, Executive Director of the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. “It is crucial that all individuals involved in a crash, including witnesses to a crash, contact 911 and remain at the scene until help arrives. Every life matters and every second counts.”

Trooper Ken Watson said that drivers flee the scene of an accident because they panic that they will lose their driver’s license. Some are driving while impaired and know they could be arrested.

Unfortunately, drivers who leave the scene after causing an accident only make matters worse. A driver’s decision to flee enhances the penalty from what is typically a traffic citation in many cases to a criminal offense. They should be held accountable for their disregard for safety.

Anyone involved in an accident should:

  • Call the police
  • Help the injured
  • Remain calm
  • Exchange driver license and insurance information with others involved. Get contact information of witnesses.

No arrests have yet been made in either the Sanders or DuBose hit-and-run accidents.

Speak with an experienced Tampa car accident attorney about your legal options if you have been injured through the actions of another driver.