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."
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.