This article was first published November 5th, 2010. Some of the laws may have changed since this that date.

How Budget Cuts in Florida Affect Drivers

Florida is certainly not alone in struggling with the recent massive economic downturn; other states are also facing the need to tighten their belts to a painful degree. As the new year begins, however, Florida's lawmakers are faced with the need to account for a budget shortfall of over $2 billion. In several, perhaps surprising ways, this lack of funds could have an especially detrimental effect on Florida's drivers, as traffic fines rise, roads become less safe and law enforcement is stretched to the breaking point.

A Crumbling Infrastructure

Between 2002 and 2006, Florida's population grew by an average of over 400,000 people per year. While Florida is known as one of the primary destinations for retirees from colder climes, the number of working-age people moving into the state to find job opportunities far outweighs that of retirees. As more and more people pour into the state, the already-congested transportation arteries face even greater pressure. For quite some time, however, Florida has faced a lack of funds to build new highways to relieve the congestion - this was the case even before this recent budget crisis.

Florida 's infrastructure problems run deeper than the need for new transportation arteries, however. The same lack of funding for new highways has slowed the repair work on existing roads, leading to more and more dangerous driving conditions. When the state of disrepair of many of Florida's major arteries is combined with rising traffic congestion, the likelihood of increased traffic accidents is probably not surprising.

Thankfully, both elements of Florida's infrastructure problem may see some relief in the near future. While Florida still faces a healthy population increase, the number of people moving to Florida has actually slowed in recent years, as declining job opportunities have curtailed the increase in young people. In fact, experts estimate that the number of new residents in Florida between 2007 and 2010 won't average much more than 200,000 per year, about half what the state received in the five years preceding.

Further, the emphasis on infrastructure improvements in the national response to the recession may mean more money for Florida and its cities, as the state stands to receive as much as $12 billion dollars in stimulus funds, much of which may be spent on languishing infrastructure improvement projects.

Increased Fines

One recent impact of Florida's budget shortfall is an increase in traffic fines over previous years. Designed as a means to raise approximately $16 million dollars to pay for courts, prosecutors and public defenders, the increased fines are set to take effect in February of 2009:

  • Speeding 1-9 miles per hour over the limit: Increased from $98 to $108
  • Speeding 15-19 miles per hour over the limit: Increased from $198 to $223
  • Speeding 20-29 miles per hour over the limit: Increased from $223 to $258
  • Running a red light: Increased from $198 to $208

In addition, the state will impose a $10 increase in the fines for certain moving violations (such as failure to use a turn signal or failure to yield), certain non-moving violations (such as illegal parking) and the failure to show proof of license or registration. The 18 percent discount on speeding tickets that drivers could receive for attending a driver's education course will also be eliminated.

Reduction in Public Services

The impending budget cuts also hold the possibility of a further reduction - or at least no increase - in Florida's law enforcement apparatus. While the direct impact of insufficient law enforcement on Florida highways would likely be an increase in speeding and unsafe driving, the secondary impacts could be even more detrimental to drivers. As Florida's motorists engage in more and more unsafe driving habits on congested highways in need of repair, the number of accidents is sure to rise.

Without an increase in law enforcement personnel, however, Florida faces the potential problem of having too few officers to conduct proper accident investigations. Since detailed accident reports are among the most useful tools for attorneys involved in accident litigation, a lack of proper reports could lead to a rise in insurance costs, as insurance companies have to account for the increased unpredictability of auto accident injury cases.

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