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Report: Southwest Florida at Risk from Bad Drivers

In a recent article published in Gulfshore Life, Reporter Jennifer Reed began with the observation that, as someone who drives 60 hours a day round-trip at least five days every week, drivers in Southwest Florida “stink.”trafficlight1

She qualifies this by saying she used to live in Massachusetts, where drivers have a notorious less-than-stellar reputation. But here in Florida, she said, “this is one big drag race, slowed only slightly by traffic signals, when they are actually obeyed.”

Not wanting to rely solely on her own opinions, Reed took her reporter’s notebook to the Lee County Justice Center, where criminal traffic arraignments start at 8:30 a.m. on the dot. Reed described it as “the unhappiest place on earth,” with 96 people on the docket – a “light day,” explains a deputy.

Consider this: The average fees for criminal traffic offenses – which range from DUI to driving on a suspended license to leaving the scene of a crash – are around $900, after fines, court costs, costs of prosecution and a clerk of court surcharge. No one walked out that day without at least paying $500.

Now consider this: During the 2014-15 fiscal year, Lee County collected $17.1 million in traffic-related fines and fees. Collier County collected $10.4 million.

In all of 2014, there were 62,884 noncriminal traffic violations doled out in Lee and more than 23,000  in Collier. Criminal traffic violations in Lee topped 14,000 while in Collier, it was nearly 5,000. The grand total equaled more than 102,300.

By far the most common criminal offenses were DUI and those involving license and registration infractions.

With noncriminal traffic offenses, the biggest problems, Reed reported, were red light running and failure to yield. A Lee County Sheriff’s motorcycle unit sergeant tells Reed that drivers in Southwest Florida can be summed in one word: Distracted.

They hustle to get to the next traffic light. They aren’t focused on their driving. They tailgate. They irresponsibly change lanes. Their whole goal it seems sometimes is to make it to the next traffic light. The motorcycle unit alone hands out 300 traffic tickets every single week. Speeding violations are common, though the sergeant notes those are almost always for those traveling more than 15 miles-per-hour over the max.

One of the intersections with the most action: College Parkway and U.S. 41 in Fort Myers (40 violators in a two-hour span at a single stop light). Then there is the intersection at Daniels Parkway and U.S. 41. In three hours, deputies dole out 85 traffic tickets – in just a single direction.

Reed connected with the founder of Stay Alive… Just Drive, a non-profit advocacy group aimed at curbing distracted driving. Jay Anderson said far too many drivers in Southwest Florida view traffic laws as merely a suggestion, inevitably leading to car accidents.

While some drivers are quick to pin the blame on poorly-designed roads, Anderson said that’s not the whole story. Even on a newly-constructed road – Treeline Avenue – people race down the street at 70 mph.

It doesn’t help that everyone has a smart phone, and now we’ve added GPS devices, dashboard screens and a multitude of other technologies that contribute to distraction. Anderson says he’s taken thousands of photographs of people using their technology while also operating a vehicle.

Meanwhile, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports distraction – and specifically smart phones – is largely to blame for the more than 8 percent spike in traffic deaths nationally in the first half of last year.

Reed concluded that simple actions – like putting the phone face down on silent mode in the passenger seat and leaving a few minutes earlier – could made a big difference in improving the safety on Southwest Florida roads.

Call Associates and Bruce L. Scheiner, Attorneys for the Injured, at 1-800-646-1210.

Additional Resources:

The Madness: How Southwest Florida Drivers Go So Wrong on the Road, January 2016, By Jennifer Reed, Gulfshore Life

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Florida’s No Fault Car Insurance System to End? Jan. 15, 2016, Fort Myers Car Accident Lawyer Blog