A Southwest Florida reporter recently delved into what she perceived as the state’s problem with notoriously bad driving.
There are the drivers who dawdle just under the speed limit in the left lane. Then there are those who tear through traffic so fast you’d almost miss them if they hadn’t barely struck you trying to get past.
The reporter, Jennifer Reed of Gulfshore Life, noted she’s from Massachusetts (where drivers aren’t known for their behind-the-wheel courtesy), but Southwest Florida was just as bad if not worse. Still, she wanted to quantify the violations she witnesses on her daily 60-mile commute.
She started at the Lee County Justice Center. Criminal traffic court. In Judge Josephine Gagliardi’s courtroom, 96 people stand waiting nervously on a Monday morning. Her deputy notes it’s a light-volume day.
Reed reported no one walked out of those doors that day owing less than $500, and those were for relatively minor offenses. During the 2014-2015 fiscal year, Lee County collected more than $17 million in traffic-related fines and fees, while Collier collected nearly $10.5 million.
Judge Gagliardi was open to cutting deals with those who had clean driving records, but generally, no one walked out scot-free. In fact, the percentage of civil traffic cases in Lee and Collier that are dropped or ruled “not guilty”: Zero.
In all of 2014, there were in Lee and Collier Counties a combined 102,300 criminal and non-criminal traffic violations. Of those, nearly 16,400 were criminal traffic infractions, and the rest were civil.
On the criminal side, the most common offenses in both areas were:
- Driving under the influence
- Registration and licensing offenses
On the non-criminal side, the most common offenses are:
- Failure to stop at a red light
- Failure to yield to vehicle that has right-of-way
Lee County Sheriff’s Office authorities say the biggest problems is probably distraction. Said one sergeant on the motorcycle unit, too many drivers don’t even watch where they are going. They’re either enveloped in their phone or music or other passengers. Many people are in a huge hurry, and they muscle their way to the next traffic light, squeezing into the next lane over, tailgating and overall behaving with aggression.
“And all they do is get to the next traffic light,” the sergeant said.
Just that single motorcycle unit alone writes an average of 300 tickets a week. And even those generally go only to those committing offenses that might actually cause personal injury to someone (i.e., careless driving, red light running, speeding, etc.). Mostly, the unit only pursues those that are in egregious violation of the law, like driving 15 mph or more over the speed limit.
Some traffic safety advocates say the problem is far too many drivers in Southwest Florida act as if traffic laws are merely a suggestion, rather than a rule. For example, people will flagrantly ignore the “No U-Turn” signs, as if it simply doesn’t apply to them.
Many people will heft blame on the roads themselves. And that’s true at least for bicyclists and pedestrians, who are often the victim of fast-paced roads with few crossings or bicycle lanes. But take for example Treeline Avenue in Fort Myers near the airport. It’s a newer road with many curves, and it was designed that way to encourage people to slow down. And still, deputies routinely bust drivers going 70 mph on that 45 mph limit road.
“It’s not the road’s fault,” said Jay Anderson of Stay Alive… Just Drive!
And unfortunately, we’re seeing an uptick. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports car accident deaths in the first half of 2015 were up more than 8 percent compared to a year earlier.
If you have been injured in an accident, contact the Hollander Law Firm at 888-751-7777 for a free and confidential consultation. There is no fee unless we win.
The Madness: How Southwest Florida Drivers Go So Wrong on the Road, January 2016, By Jennifer Reed, Gulfshore Life
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