TALLAHASSEE — Florida will soon start sending some of the state's worst drivers back to school.
A new state law will require any motorist convicted of three crash-related moving violations over a three-year period to take a behind-the-wheel education course and pass a driving test, just like a teenager.
The little-noticed crackdown on chronically bad drivers becomes effective Jan. 1, and was part of the annual legislation re-enacting traffic laws and signed last month by Gov. Charlie Crist.
"These people have demonstrated a propensity not only for crashing but for being at fault," said Electra Bustle, executive director of the state highway safety agency. "If we can change even one person's driving behavior to avoid a crash, then I think we'll be successful."
Highway safety officials will begin counting violations starting in January, so previous incidents won't be considered. Still, department officials have identified more than 3,200 drivers who currently fit in the most dangerous category. Statistically, they are most likely to be white men, age 40 or younger, and clustered in urban centers. Although men make up 52 percent of the drivers, they account for 64 percent of these bad drivers.
Kevin Bakewell, senior vice president of AAA Auto Club South in Tampa, said the change is a positive development.
"For some people, paying a fine for violating a traffic law does not serve as a disincentive," Bakewell said. "Hopefully, the act of having to take that driving test will have some positive impact on that person's driving behavior."
Current law requires a four-hour refresher course for drivers cited in two crashes, but the course can be taken on the Internet and does not include behind-the-wheel training.
Contrary to stereotypes, the Florida drivers most likely to be cited repeatedly for causing accidents are not elderly. Only 7 percent are over 65; more than a third are under age 25.
The Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles has identified 3,277 drivers who were involved in 10,281 accidents over a three-year period ending Dec. 31, 2008.
Of that total, 595 have at least one conviction for driving under the influence of alcohol.
Despite their issues on the roadways, however, the worst-of-the-worst drivers rarely cause fatalities. The state said they accounted for five deaths in that same three-year span. About 3,000 people die each year on Florida highways.
A federal privacy law prohibits the state from disclosing the names of the worst drivers, but the state knows who they are and where they live.
Miami-Dade, the state's most populous county, was home to the most dangerous drivers in 2008, with 378. Jacksonville's Duval was right behind with 372, even though Duval has only about a third as many drivers.
Pinellas and Hillsborough rank third and fourth, with Broward fifth.
Among larger counties, Palm Beach is comparatively a very safe place to drive. The county has more than 1 million drivers but only 112 on the most dangerous list.
Steve Bousquet can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (850) 224-7263.