Skip to comments.In bad economy, drivers buckling under traffic tickets
Posted on 05/16/2011 8:52:18 AM PDT by DeaconBenjamin
Rosemary Smith saw the motorcycle cop's flashing lights behind her, and her eyes immediately started to well up.
She was going 17 mph over the speed limit and faced a $256 fine, the officer told her after she pulled into a parking lot off Fourth Street N.
As she fought back tears, her life story spilled out. She was a full-time college student, her only income from part-time work as a bank teller. She had a wedding coming up in November.
"I've got house bills to pay," said Smith, 21, visibly shaken as she clutched the wheel of her blue Saturn. "I'm freaking out."
Motorists complaining about tickets is nothing new for traffic cops. But officers say they are sensing growing distress.
"A day doesn't go by when I don't see someone cry," said Officer Mauricio Steffek. "They can't believe how much the ticket costs. They'll tell me, 'Give me a break. I don't have a job now. I'm falling behind the mortgage or car payments.' "
Once a minor, if stressful, inconvenience, the everyday traffic citation is becoming a life altering breaking point for many.
And more and more, drivers aren't paying them creating a ripple effect in city and county budgets across Tampa Bay.
In St. Petersburg, the money collected from traffic tickets has dropped from $681,000 in 2008 to $494,214 in 2010. It's projected to dwindle even further this year despite the fact that police handed out 1,500 more tickets last year than they did in 2008.
"It's a drastic drop that means we have to find revenue from other places," said Tim Finch, St. Petersburg's director of budget and management. "It makes it tougher on other departments."
Pinellas County has seen its ticket revenue fall by $700,000 in two years. In Tampa, police estimate they will bring in $900,000 less than they did in 2008. In Hillsborough, fine collections are down nearly $3 million since 2008.
"It's directly related to the economy," said Hillsborough Clerk of Courts Pat Frank. "People are being more cautious because they can't afford it. And police officers are more reluctant to give out tickets when the fines are more costly."
In recent years, Florida's tax adverse politicians have raised fees to generate new revenue. Traffic law-flouting motorists are a tempting target because they don't garner public sympathy.
State lawmakers in 2009 approved new measures to produce more than $63 million, all from the pockets of wayward motorists. Included: a new $10 charge on all traffic infractions, cutting an 18 percent discount for attending traffic school, and a $25 increase for exceeding the speed limit by 15 to 29 mph.
Local governments tack on more charges. In Pinellas County, for instance, each citation can get assessed an extra $30 for court costs; $3 for driver education safety programs; $3 for teen court; and $2 to pay for public safety applicant screenings.
Tickets range from $62 for a bicycle infraction to $456 for traveling 20 to 29 mph over the limit in a school or construction zone. If a driver is hit with multiple violations, such as speeding, not wearing a seat belt and having an expired tag, fines can climb to nearly $700.
In times like these, a ticket can be a severe blow to those living paycheck to paycheck.
Officers have the discretion to waive the ticket if they think the driver would be better served with a warning. Traffic cops like to say it's about public safety, not the money.
On a recent Tuesday morning, Steffek listened to Smith's tale of woe. He called up her driving history. Clean. He decided to waive the fine.
"It would have been hard for me to pay," said Smith, grateful and smiling.
As she drove away, Steffek said he had imagined himself in her predicament.
"She was shaking really bad," he said. "She was scared."
Pain felt by drivers is so evident their biggest supporters are often the cops who stop them.
"Our deputies feel that because of the way the economy is, they give out a lot more warnings," said Detective Larry McKinnon, Hillsborough sheriff's spokesman.
Same with Pinellas.
"We're very aware of some of the cost," said spokeswoman Marianne Pasha. "If there is an opportunity to write a warning, rather than write a citation, that's what we'll do."
In many cases, deputies won't write multiple citations like they did in the past. If someone with a clean driving record is caught speeding without wearing a seat belt, McKinnon said, they'll be cited for a seat belt violation.
"We're more tolerant," he said. "People have lost their jobs and are struggling. A lot of times you'll see families in the car. How do you write someone a $700 ticket when they have a carload of kids?"
Empathy comes with a price.
Pinellas is on track to write 2,000 fewer tickets than it did two years ago. Hillsborough tickets dropped by 40,000 from 2008 to 2010. Not all of that stemmed from deputies waiving tickets, McKinnon said.
The other reason also is economic: There are fewer deputies out there writing tickets.
In St. Petersburg, police are handing out more tickets than ever, but fewer people are paying, said Lt. William Korinek, who oversees traffic enforcement.
"People are saying that the tickets are too expensive," Korinek said. "For the most part, they're not criminals. They're people like you and me, average people going about their day. "
On a recent Tuesday, Chris Robinson, a retired 64-year-old, was running errands when he was stopped for speeding.
He was going 48 mph in a 35 mph zone. The fine: $206.
"I can't pay it," Robinson said as his shoulders sagged and he cradled his face in his hand. "I'm on a fixed income. It's going to kill me."
Fined drivers can pay the full sum within 30 days, or spread the fine out in six monthly installments.
An increasingly popular option: People can work off the debt with community service.
"Economic conditions are driving that," said Hazel Bure, director of the court and operational services at the Pinellas County Clerk of Court. "The traffic fines are very high."
Drivers calculate the hours they need to work for a nonprofit by dividing the fine by the $7.25 hourly minimum wage. A $206 fine would be almost 29 hours. The fine isn't waived until the courts get a verification letter from the nonprofit.
The option is a boon to groups like Habitat for Humanity. Since 2008, the nonprofit has seen the number of people volunteering to pay off tickets double to about 12 a week, said Kevin Klucas, the group's volunteer coordinator.
"It works well for us, and hopefully becomes a good experience for them, too," Klucas said.
While some turn the experience into a productive one, officials say others let a ticket disrupt their lives. If a fine isn't paid, a motorist's driver's license is suspended, a misdemeanor that can mean going to jail. The state doesn't track the number of suspended licenses, but some law enforcement officers say there has been a rise.
A look at Pinellas County jail records show that more than 7,000 people were processed for that charge since 2005.
The majority of those were people arrested on the charge for the second or third time.
During rush hour last week, Steffek and fellow St. Petersburg Officer Chris Dort stopped more than a dozen drivers in two hours. Nearly everyone fretted about the fine.
"I work hard and make just enough to pay my bills," said Bob Samples, a 47-year-old restaurant worker facing a $206 speeding ticket. John Zurek was looking at $256 for going 17 mph over the limit. A 20-year-old St. Petersburg College student who recently quit his job at a sandwich shop, Zurek said he didn't know where he'd get the money.
Whatever strain motorists are feeling, it may only get worse.
St. Petersburg officials are installing red light cameras to catch offenders and will likely start handing out $158 tickets this summer. Hillsborough County already does. Tampa soon will.
"I feel bad for some of these drivers," Dort said. "People are busy. They're running around, trying to make ends meet. It's real rough out there."
I can’t believe the number of taxation by entrapment supporters there are on this thread.
Traffic tickets have never been about safety. They are 100% about revenue. Want to increase revenue.... stop patrolling the highway. Put these cops to work on real police work or fire them. The gas expense you save alone having these fools drive up and down the highway will more than make up any reduction in revenue.
The article addresses speeding in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties, FL.
The article is BS -as are many of the posts-from-the-hip on this thread.
Citing one guilty case and an officer’s leniency does not explain why people are not paying their traffic fines. This is the real message of this article. People are blowing off the law, not paying fines and driving after their license is revoked. This is what is represented by the gross gaps in fine receipts. The article otoh seems to be saying “be nice and pay those fines”. It’s ridiculous.
I live here and have received 4 citations over the past year from both counties. Total cost about $1800. I had none in 3 years, then 4 within 10 months with no change in my driving route, hours or speeds. Nearly all of my tickets were speed traps. Some speed traps were recent creations, like the Veterans’ Expressway to JFK blvd and others were ones I didn’t know of.
Basically, how it goes in these counties is they do some road work, remove the old, higher speed limit signs and after the work replace them with a single lower speed limit sign placed on an entrance ramp to an elevated roadway (the Veterans Expressway trap) or far back on the road after merging in from a higher speed limit road. After several months they finally properly posted the Veterans Expressway 50mph limit (down from 65) following complaints.
They also now target the commuters when they used to mostly leave them alone. Commuters are now prey to be culled for revenue as apparently it’s deemed they will pay the fines to be able to work.
It’s about revenue and people are not paying in these counties in increasing numbers. They are ignoring the law. It’s a very bad precident essentially saying the state and LEOs are preying upon the public and, in increasing numbers, the public does not recognize the legality and or validity of the law or its judgement. But this is not an issue somehow because Ms. Smith cries and is not given a ticket.
Don't give them any new ideas.
Yeah, you have a good point, I’ll give you that.
I live in this area. IMHO, they have shortened the yellow lights in order to force people to run the red at the cameras. I have seen so many people screech to a halt in an intersection to avoid running the red.
Those red light cameras are going to kill someone - I’m sure they have already. They are violent intrusions on American freedoms.
The old folks in FL love them, because they snarl up the traffic driving 10 miles below the speed limit on all the roads, and they don’t want their taxes raised.
What used to be a minor $20 ticket is now 200+ and also makes you mandatory insurance rate skyrocket for years to come. Oppression takes many forms.
Special dispensations? .........
“Traffic cops like to say it’s about public safety, not the money”
“The old folks in FL love them, because they snarl up the traffic driving 10 miles below the speed limit on all the roads”
Always in the left lane as well.
It takes money to tighten that belt.
Three extra ‘workers’ to pull on the end of it; another two extra to anchor the other end, and a sixth extra to cinch the buckle.
And that can only happen after an outside consultant has been hired; three studies completed; and a PR campaign implimented; and a Cost Containment Management Theam has been hired.
Saving money is a very costly operation, IF you’re the government.
I look at cops now no different than I do the rude sob’s at the DMV.
I used to actually give a damn when I heard about cops getting injured in the line of duty - now I just turn the channel.
They earned the general hatred the public has for them, and its only going to get worse.
Where I live - these bs artists w badges never walk the beat, never treat the taxpayer with respect, and just ride around in the car on their cell phone busting chops and giving out ridiculous tickets.
You clubbed a baby seal!@!!
I agree that the sympathy for that motorist, was overplayed.
Grown-ups realize that you have to follow the rules, even if you don’t like them. As for the local police agencies playing games to increase revenues, that is wrong too.
I agree with regard to disregard for the law, and the need to comply with the court’s rulings related to fines.
It is interesting that citizens have now figured out that they can live at least temporarily by the same laws the illegal aliens have lived by for decades, totally ignoring our justice system.
The problem is, bench warrants are a very rude awakening, and a lot of people are in for the shock of their lives in the months and years to come.
Cops and judges NEED to be PO’d...frequently.
Its high time these thugs with badges and imbeciles in robes understand WHO they work for.
What was it that we hated about the USSR? Neighbors spying on neighbors? Kids spying on parents? Fear to voice your opinion? Think about what we detested about their police state and transpose what we have now and where we are going, in the name of National Security!
bad economy??? what bad economy? the media keeps saying everything is fine...(rolling eyes)
They're also the same folks who will be coming to confiscate our guns someday.
face it, runnin down the highway, yer one of theherd, and the reality is that the cop picks and chooses who the winners and losers are of lifes revenue lottery everytime the park on the side of the road...
the last fat bastard that wrote me was breakin a sweat just walkin from his cruiser...maybe he was feelin guilty for runnin an 1/8 mile strip from one end of the road to the other, back and forth, on Easter Sunday...prick...
Everyone should make sure that they are signaling fellow drivers on the other side when a cop is spotted. Sorry to hear that your state cops suck.
Did you really think we want those laws observed? said Dr. Ferris. We want them to be broken. You'd better get it straight that it's not a bunch of boy scouts you're up against... We're after power and we mean it... There's no way to rule innocent men. The only power any government has is the power to crack down on criminals. Well, when there aren't enough criminals one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws. Who wants a nation of law-abiding citizens? What's there in that for anyone? But just pass the kind of laws that can neither be observed nor enforced or objectively interpreted and you create a nation of law-breakers and then you cash in on guilt. Now that's the system, Mr. Reardon, that's the game, and once you understand it, you'll be much easier to deal with. -Ayn Rand, 'Atlas Shrugged', 1957
They lie in wait in my area just in a spot at the bottom of a hill and just where it changes from a 45 mph an hour zone to 35 mph. So, if you are the slightest bit pre-occupied its very easy to catch yourself at 45-50 going down the hill. Though, I have made it my lifes mission to never give these SOBs one red cent of my money.
One of the proofs of that pudding is the fact that fix it tickets(tickets for headlights being out, brake lights not working etc)used to be a warning and you had to have it fixed by a certain date. No fine was involved. Now, in CA, you are fined if you have a tail light or signal light not functioning.
It is all about money and nothing about safety and always has been. Ditto the renewing drivers licenses and registration. These two things should be good for life unless you screw up somehow.
shouldnt the peasants that got all those tickets, for years, be re-imbursed for the artificially low former trap limit...???
I am sorry, but when a speeder complains about the high cost of a fine, then the blame falls on them for speeding. Don’t speed=no ticket.
Go to the painfully poor city of Oak Ridge TN. My brother lives just outside the city limits and they not only have red light cameras they have radar cameras that issue you a nice $50 ticket for 1 mph over the limit. Sucks if your speedometer is off any at all. But alas the Beast must be fed.
I haven’t got a ticket in Oak Ridge, and will not, I refuse to travel or spend money in their city until their speed trap is removed. Hopefully the citizens will vote out the $$$ hungry fascists who set up this lovely speed trap.
That is the type of BS that should be cracked down upon. I don't like the speed cameras we have here, but they only nail you if you go 11mph or more over the limit... but I still slow down to below the limit anyway... guess it is a reflex.
It recently cost me $100 for the traffic fine, $40 for the driver ed course and 2 days off of work to go to court. All for driving 34 in a 30 mph zone.
If you see red light cameras in a shopping area, go in and tell the store owners that you won’t shop in an area that has a red light camera and you will tell everyone you know to avoid the place.
Let the shop owners go to the legislature to tell them to repeal the legislation.
“It’s a drastic drop that means we have to find revenue from other places,” said Tim Finch, St. Petersburg’s director of budget and management. “It makes it tougher on other departments.”
Point of order: no municipal court should intended to be a revenue generating device. I’m a municipal court judge, and my job is not to bring money into the city coffers, it’s to dispense justice. Call me naive, but I’ve had to tell mayors and city council members that before, and I’m still sitting on the bench.
Here’s an idea: DON’T SPEED.
There are Fed and State parameters for yellow light clearances depending on speed and grade of roads.
If they are shortening them under-time you have a case.
I got a 'red light' running ticket dropped years ago - spent loads of time researching intervals, video taping the intersection, walking into court with reams of paperwork.
Sucks to be the visible representative of and enforcer for an oppressive state.
Cops collect road toll tax, it is no fun for them to trying and arrest the illegal driving 50 in a 70 miles zone.
Not so simple when you are driving down a road engineered to be safely driven at 50mph and the speed limit is 30.
“Local governments tack on more charges. In Pinellas County, for instance, each citation can get assessed an extra $30 for court costs; $3 for driver education safety programs; $3 for teen court; and $2 to pay for public safety applicant screenings.
Tickets range from $62 for a bicycle infraction to $456 for traveling 20 to 29 mph over the limit in a school or construction zone. If a driver is hit with multiple violations, such as speeding, not wearing a seat belt and having an expired tag, fines can climb to nearly $700.”
The current day sheriffs of nottingham.
all good until you take it to the logical extreme of which 'rules' are decereed by the annointed ones...
around here, and in most places ive ever driven, 'rush hour traffic is 90% of the traffic runnin 10-15 over the posted limit...the only thing that keeps the citizenry from storming the towers is that the herd is only bled a sheep or two per commute...but everybody wonders when their number is up...usually as they watch the same cops fly past em at any speed they wish, or even beteer, mom and an suv full of urchins crawlin over the seats, with the almighty fop badge on the plate...
bench warrents are a bitch...but nothin compared to the 'pushback' that might likely come from the obambamomics and its police state...
Actually obeying the speed limit is the answer.
Then there is no cause for a fine.
SO stop crying. You break the law ... you owe a fine. NO excuses. Slow down. Our accidents are way up, and it is usually running stop signs and speed.
Our life depends on being a good driver as do the lives of others.
Sucks to watch people who claim they are defenders of liberty falling all over themselves to excuse this also. (not you, obviously)
Where am I going wrong?
I agree with your comments. There are limits to what people should be expected to put up with. In general, people should abide by the traffic laws. If you’re traveling during rush hour and traffic is moving above the posted speed limit, it would cause a dangerous situation for you to slow down and impede traffic.
One can start a movement to get the city council to make changes to local speed or traffic related laws, if the police are out of line. I would support such an effort.
One of the hardest lessons in life, is the lesson that tells us that not everything in life will be fair. Even then, if something is so unfair that it reaches a Constitutional test, then it should be addressed at the local, state, or federal level.
We shouldn’t blindly follow any law. We do need to go about remedying that law in productive ways though. Setting yourself up to fail is not productive.
Sorry I’ve enver heard of a road that had to be driven at a certain speed to be safe.
I don’t drive a lot but I have a son who is very good on such things. He has an engineering type brain and is a top notch mechanic. He’s got a very good eye and great instincts.
I’ve learned over the years that when he says something is happening, it’s usually happening.
Perhaps they were set at a long interval before and then reset to a normal length when cameras were installed. But he says certain lights are definitely shorter.
By the way, since the day Obama got in he’s been telling me he’s a muslim who is going to destroy Israel and shake the heck out of the mideast.
If it were 5 miles over or 10 that would be one thing but for 1? Speed trap pure and simple. The state should make the city post signs at city limit that the city has been designated a speed trap. And your speedometer being off 1 or 2 mph is probable. I have three vehicles and GPS says one of the three is off by 2mph.
You think your going the speed limit and then in 30 days you get a nice gift from the city in the mail and you get to pay them a $50 prize for playing a game you believed you were not playing. But of course you were speeding and breaking the law so common sense and doing the right thing be damned, the law is the law Barney.
Cops who wonder why the public does not give a damn about them anymore need only read these articles, those where cops shoot peoples dogs, etc etc.
They are perceived as the praetorian guard for the state and big govt, and nothing else.
Cops should take a lesson from Walmart.
They should write the hell out of tickets but charge a reasonable fine.
Make it up in volume. Everyone will be happy.
Unfortunately, that IS the perception. Fact is, the SCOTUS has ruled that a properly trained peace officer properly using an electronic speed measurement device to confirm the officer’s prior perception that a vehicle was exceeding the posted or presumed speed limit is prima facie proof beyond a reasonable doubt that the offense occurred.
IOW, unless the defense can show the officer wasn’t qualified to operate the radar/lidar or he testifies badly (didn’t estimate the speed first by eye), the driver loses. That doesn’t mean innocent till proven guilty, because the State still has to prove every element of its case beyond a reasonable doubt - it’s just that the evidentiary presumptions are against the defense.
Sometimes in larger jurisdictions, just showing up and betting the officer won’t will get the prosecutor to dismiss. In smaller jurisdictions like mine, we just set the case for trial.
I dont drive a lot but I have a son who is very good on such things.
He’d have fun reading these discussion sites on clearance intervals.
If enough people looked into this and fought in court or wrote ‘letters to the editors’ or whatnot, more people would see red light cameras for what they really are “revenue generation devices” - they need to fix the intervals for safety - but that wouldn’t be revenue enhancing......