On Tuesday, Gov. Rick Scott signed into law a bill that would require engineers to install traffic barriers along bodies of water near state roads.
The bill, HB 7061, contains a provision called Chloe’s Law, named after 21-year-old UCF student Chloe Arenas, who drowned June 28, 2015, after crashing her car into a retention pond near Alafaya Trail and State Road 408 around 5 a.m.
The Chloe’s Law provision would require the Florida Department of Transportation to add barriers to state roads adjacent to bodies of water in which a drowning death occurred between July 1, 2006, and July 1, 2016. The barriers must be installed by by June 30, 2018.
Tyler Yeargain, the UCF Student Government Association legislative affairs coordinator, said Chloe’s Law passed with unprecedented speed, having only gone through one legislative session.
“Typically, when there’s legislation that is proposed in response to a death, it takes a couple years for all the kinks in the bill to be worked out,” Yeargain said. “Even though they’re not typically controversial, they’re typically not high priority, so there’s typically not a reason for them to move through the legislature all that quickly.”
Yeargain said this was a special circumstance he attributes to the UCF community, and the clout it holds at the state level and among government relations consultants at Gray Robinson and Sen. Darren Soto.
The only way the bill could be stopped at this point, Yeargain explained, would be for someone to challenge its constitutionality but that’s unlikely to happen.
The Chloe’s Law provision began as a change.org petition started by Arenas’ friend Clarissa Lindsey in July 2015. Lindsey petitioned the Florida Legislature to have guardrails installed near bodies of water. Her petition garnered the attention Soto, who helped turn the petition into actual legislation. Sen. Soto was joined by Representative Rene “Coach P” Plasencia, a UCF alumnus, who lamented the number of traffic accidents that occur in Florida.
“No parent should ever have to bury their child,” Plasencia said in a press release. “With Chloe’s Law’s passage, we can begin to take steps necessary to ensure Florida has the safest roadways.”
Florida leads the nation in vehicle-related drowning deaths, according to a 2011 study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Between 2004 and 2008, the state experienced 57 vehicle-related drownings, followed by California with 49 and Texas with 31. Nearly 2.1 percent of all traffic fatalities in Florida during this period involved drowning, according to the study.
“In a perfect world, this law would prevent all submerged vehicle drownings,” Lindsey said. “Unfortunately, that just isn’t realistic. I am confident it will save many lives, but I think it’s important to realize that the work is not complete. In order to be a successful law, we must continually revisit the process and amend what we can to make it even more beneficial.”
When she first heard the bill had passed, Lindsey said she felt numb and overwhelmed with a sense of peace. Lindsey said that the process of getting Chloe’s Law passed has kept her focused on getting through each day, but now she can finally start the mourning process.
“We have been working tirelessly to continue advocating for Chloe’s Law,” Lindsey said in a previous interview with the Future. “Sen. Darren Soto has committed to sponsoring the law in the Senate, and we are still working to go forth with the same process with the House of Representatives.”
Though Chloe’s Law has passed, Lindsey doesn’t feel her work is complete.
“Chloe’s family and I established The Non Profit Foundation for Chloe’s Law,” Lindsey said. “Ideally, we would like to begin setting up fundraisers for students who share the same passion for animals as Chloe did. Chloe’s mom has also been discussing how beneficial it would be to educate drivers on the importance of not driving when you’re tired ... I will continue to honor Chloe every day of my life through everything I do. I have a guardian angel to make proud.”
This story was originally published on April 19, 2016.
Bernard Wilchusky is the Editor-in-Chief of the Central Florida Future. Follow him on Twitter @cameradudeman or email him at BernardW@centralfloridafuture.com.
Alissa Smith is the News Editor for the Central Florida Future. Follow her on Twitter at @thealissasmith or email her at AlissaS@centralfloridafuture.com.