Florida Traffic Tickets: Public Safety or Big Business?

Four million – that is approximately how many traffic tickets the state of Florida issues every year. FOUR MILLION! Think about what a huge number that is. That averages out to almost 60,000 traffic citations for every county in the state, although the amount number issued differs tremendously from county to county. Some counties issue a great deal more traffic citations than others based upon population and how stringent the law enforcement is in that specific county, but no matter how you look at it, that equals a huge amount of revenue for the state.

Keep in mind that most of these tickets are the result of speeding, therefore, they have widely varying fines depending upon the county you are in when you get the speeding citation and by how much you have exceeded the speed limit. When you combine the millions of traffic citations written and factor in the speeding ticket variable, this creates quite a prolific industry. In fact, although traffic citations are a multi-billion dollar industry on a national scale, one television investigation determined that from early 2011 through early 2012, the state of Florida alone received more than $101 million in traffic fines. This is just the amount that the state got and doesn’t include whatever portion of the traffic fines that was divided up with the cities or counties in which they were written.

Law enforcement agencies use much of these funds to hire more enforcement officers to keep the wheels of this financial machine moving, and it’s not just the law enforcement agencies who write traffic citations that realize financial rewards either. When you consider the number of entities that benefit from this revenue, it is easy to see that this is a profit-motivated system that thrives off of what is often just human error. Public and private agencies, just like law enforcement, get a piece of this financial pie. These agencies include court systems, city and state governments, insurance companies, and traffic ticket camera companies. Here just a few of the ways that these profits are used:

• The budget of the Clerk of Court in the areas in which the citation was written is frequently affected by the amount of fines and penalties it receives.

• The state anticipates a certain amount of revenue from traffic citations which is also uses to balance its budget.

• Insurance companies use these traffic citations as a means to classify someone as a “high risk” driver to justify raising insurance rates which is the catalyst for automobile insurance becoming a multi-billion dollar industry. This is certainly great motivation to claim to support safety programs and donate various speed detection devices to police agencies. The millions of dollars they may spend on these devices is just a small percentage of the profits they stand to gain by more traffic citations being issued. Additionally, although insurance companies often claim that enforcing traffic laws is in the interest of public safety, there is really very evidence to substantiate that there is a correlation between infrequently getting a traffic ticket and posing a greater risk of causing a traffic accident.

• Traffic ticket camera companies are, in my mind, the most odious of all of these as they are private companies that are strictly for-profit and cannot effectively argue that their interests are in “public safety.”

• Let’s not forget the ancillary beneficiaries such as the companies who make speed detection devices, traffic schools, and so on.

With all of these groups looking to make financial gains off of hapless drivers, it is not surprising that traffic tickets are just one more multi-million dollar Florida business. That’s right – a business, not a public safety concern. It’s a business that, at $150 or more per traffic citation, proliferates so greatly that many municipalities try to obfuscate the true numbers about how much profit is involved. Not only do they then have to share less of the funds received, but it helps to try to keep average drivers from becoming outraged at how much money they are bilked out of through traffic ticket practices that can often be less than ethical.

One such example of questionable ethical behavior on the part of law enforcement is when someone is stopped for a traffic violation, but is arrested on a greater charge such as marijuana possession. In such a case, the issuance of the traffic ticket would not be included in traffic violation statistical data. Anyone with a rudimentary understanding of statistics quickly realizes that this practice skews the data that is presented regarding traffic citation information.

In effort to keep this tremendous profit-driven scheme in motion, the legislature has to pass laws that allow cops to stop drivers for any arbitrary reason they choose. Something as seemingly insignificant as “improper lane change” is legal grounds to pull someone over and allow the police officer to look for other possible reasons to write citations. When you couple this with other factors such as the legal system projecting the image that anyone with a traffic ticket or two as a bad driver and a menace on the roadways, it acts as justification to keep those ever-increasing fines to be continuously rolling in. If our lawmakers can keep these fines to a level that will curtail the majority of ticketed drivers from fighting back against the system, they can continue to expect this golden goose to keep producing to their benefit. They do so knowing that most drivers who receive traffic citations are at a disadvantage when fighting these tickets, which makes the inequity involved in the entire traffic law process patently clear.

Yes, it is true that even attorneys get their portion of funds created by the issuance of traffic tickets. Specifically, traffic ticket attorneys make our living by representing drivers who receive traffic citations. I do, however, believe that most do so for the same reason that we at the Traffic Ticket Team do – because we feel that the average driver is taken advantage of by the system because it is a system that is set up so that the odds are stacked against anyone who gets a traffic citation. This is why, unless you are quite savvy in the courtroom, it is usually beneficial to you to hire a traffic ticket attorney. We are here to make sure that you have every advantage possible when fighting a traffic ticket, so give us a call at 954-967-9888 for a free consultation.

City’s Traffic Light Camera Appeal Denied

Finally, a small victory for the little guy! It comes as no surprise to anyone that red light traffic cameras are an increasing annoyance to everyone except the municipalities who use them and the private companies that make a fortune off of installing and then maintaining them. Like many other traffic laws in Florida, traffic cameras serve one purpose and one purpose only – to continue to line the pockets of local politicians. Yes, we all know that proponents of red light traffic cameras espouse that their purpose is to advance public safety. Well, I am not buying it. As a traffic ticket attorney, I have seen too many instances where drivers have gotten traffic tickets when they weren’t even moving. Additionally, the knowledge that these cameras are the livelihood of private companies who have a major financial interest in advocating their use bolsters my skepticism.

Although the constitutionality of using these red light traffic cameras has been challenged in the court systems ever since their inception, recent news gives drivers, and traffic ticket attorneys, hope that they may be on their way out. On October 15, a three-judge panel for the Fourth District Court of Appeals denied the appeal of the City of Hollywood to have an earlier decision overturned. The previous matter supported Eric Arem’s claim that the issuance of citations by a private company is not permissible under Florida state law, which was then supported by the appeals panel reinforcing that state law does not permit private companies to issue traffic citations. Yet individual municipalities hire private companies, one Arizona-based company in particular, to install and maintain red light traffic ticket cameras. This results in a fiscally symbiotic relationship for both parties.

Drivers are surely elated at this development, but it does pave the way for many unanswered questions. Surely, one question that is in the forefront of most drivers’ minds is whether or not traffic tickets will still be issued in South Florida as a result of red light traffic cameras. It is not an easy question to answer because, although some towns have done away with traffic cameras, this most recent ruling pertaining to Hollywood is not yet carved in stone. According to Hollywood spokesperson, Raelin Storey, there is still a possibility that there may be a rehearing or it can be appealed before the Florida Supreme Court.

“This case has the potential to impact a number of cities that contract with (… the Arizona company),” Storey said. “If the administration of the program has to change dramatically, we would, of course, have to evaluate whether we can continue to afford to operate it.”

The determination made by the appellate court ruling states, “Such outsourcing to a third-party… for red light camera violations is contrary to the plain wording of the Florida statutes.” This “plain wording” provision prevents cities and municipalities from applying their own interpretation of law, thereby ensuring uniformity throughout the state in the application of traffic laws and the fines and penalties that arise from traffic violations.

This is far from the first time that the use of red light traffic cameras has been a matter of controversy. Back in June, a court ruled that several other Florida towns side-stepped Florida state law by the use of traffic light cameras prior to July 1, 2010 when the State Legislature approved the use of these cameras. The continued push to repeal or restrict the use of these cameras has met with resistance by those who support them and by safety studies being impeded in the State Legislature.

This recent ruling may have been aimed at Hollywood, but other towns such as Hallendale Beach and Hialeah have already done away with the unpopular red light traffic cameras. In light of all of this controversy, it’s not surprising to learn that many other cities are actively trying to circumvent similar issues from occurring. Additionally, the list of South Florida towns that are suspending the use of red light traffic cameras pending further action by the courts continues to grow.

“We have to be prudent,” Palm Beach County Attorney Denise Nieman said regarding that county’s decision to temporarily suspend their traffic camera program.

Unfortunately for drivers, each city still gets to choose whether or not to use these traffic cameras. Although the argument for doing so is that they reduce accidents, the fine for committing a red light camera violation is $158. With over 900 traffic cameras installed in Florida, most of which are in South Florida, this practice has generated over 750,000 traffic tickets and more than $119 million in fines.

A large portion of that revenue goes to the company that installs the cameras and generates the traffic tickets. This makes it obvious that this is more about being a profit-generating business than about any genuine interest in reducing accidents. After all, what better way to cover budgetary shortfalls than under the guise of concern for the public welfare? Of course, the private company’s website also touts how they are improving safety for the public’s own good, but you will be hard pressed to see anything posted there as to how lucrative this business has become for them.

In what would appear to be a frantic effort, the Arizona company that provides these traffic cameras to Hollywood claims that it can change the way they issue the traffic tickets. Why wouldn’t they scramble to come up with an alternative? In 2013 and 2014 alone, this particular company has gleaned a large percentage of roughly $28,000,000 that the State of Florida has paid to the traffic camera vendors.

Even though the debate regarding the legality and efficacy of traffic cameras continues to rage, no other precedent exists so this recent is ruling is now case law, at least for the time being. As such, it will hopefully pave the way for more municipalities to consider the legal ramifications of having the cameras installed and maintained. As long as they continue to be profitable, it’s likely that local governments will try to justify their existence. Eliminating the profit margin by doing away with third-party issued traffic tickets and fighting these erroneous traffic tickets in court are the best way to ensure a fairer playing field when red light traffic tickets are issued. In many cases, it is possible that refunds are due to motorists who have received red light traffic camera citations.

If you feel that you are one of those many drivers who have received an unjust red light traffic ticket, give us a call for a free consultation. We will be happy to review your traffic ticket with you and continue to work to protect your right and the rights of other drivers.