Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Tickets and traffic school no deterrent to fatal Harbour Island crash

TAMPA — Last summer, a Hillsborough County sheriff's deputy clocked a Volvo going 90 mph on Interstate 4.

Riverview dentist Matthew Moye got a speeding ticket, his 10th in 12 years. The citation left no points on his Florida driving record because Moye agreed to return to traffic school.

A few weeks later, he got ticketed in Minnesota. Speeding, again.

And he was speeding — this time, drunk — in October, police say, when he killed two pedestrians on Tampa's Harbour Island Bridge.

Only then, as a condition of bail, did a judge bar him from driving.

In Florida, motorists routinely keep their licenses by attending state-sanctioned driver improvement courses.

But multiple studies show that traffic schools are largely ineffective at preventing crashes.

"One of the big myths in highway safety is that education is going to solve a lot of problems," said Anne McCartt, a senior researcher for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, a Washington, D.C., group funded by auto insurers.

In a 2004 study, the institute found that license suspension and revocation were the most effective ways to reduce crashes and violations.

McCartt said it's otherwise too easy for people with bad driving records to stay on the road.

"Letting people off the hook is going to come back to haunt you," she said.

• • •

To get points on a driving record in Florida, a motorist has to admit guilt or be found guilty of a moving violation. Points are not assessed if adjudication is withheld.

Traffic stops yielded more than 2 million noncriminal moving violations in 2009, the most recent data available from the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles.

Nearly two-thirds of the time, the tickets did not result in a conviction, statistics show.

In 6 percent of the cases, court officials issued a guilty ruling. In 30 percent, defendants admitted guilt by paying a civil penalty. The other drivers were acquitted, had tickets dismissed or had adjudication withheld.

That was the pattern statewide, including in Pinellas County. In Hillsborough and Pasco counties, just 2 percent of drivers were found guilty in traffic court.

An attorney can make a difference, pointing out technicalities or errors on the citation that may lead to dismissal or a lesser penalty. Cases may be dismissed if no witnesses appear to testify. Once a year, or five times in a lifetime, state law allows the driving school option.

Tampa lawyer Ty Trayner takes on hundreds of traffic cases each year.

"To me, it's very important to keep your driving record clean," Trayner said. "If you pay me $150, it's a lot better than paying your insurance company more than $150 in the next five years."

Trayner represented Moye over the I-4 speeding ticket. Court records reflect a no-contest plea. Hillsborough County Judge Richard Weis withheld adjudication. The judge declined to comment for this story, citing the pending criminal case against Moye.

"Adjudication withheld is really just a free pass for the point system," said Deputy Larry McKinnon of the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office. "Unless he is adjudicated, you can never climb that ladder to get classified as a habitual offender."

Some auto safety researchers agree.

"It destroys the validity of people's driving records," said Steven Bloch of the Automobile Club of Southern California.

In a 1997 California study, Bloch found that drivers who took improvement classes knew more, but their behavior on the road didn't change.

And a later study by the California Department of Motor Vehicles found that drivers who attended traffic school actually had a higher crash rate in the year following a citation than those who received points.

"The problem is (legislators and judges) have a real constituency of people who don't want citations on their record," Bloch said. He noted that in many cases nonpunitive sanctions also prevent insurance premiums from climbing. "People like them, even though they don't work."

• • •

Florida defends driving school with studies of its own — the most recent in 2007. The Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles looked at 21 programs and concluded that graduates went on to have fewer crashes or fewer violations than ticketed motorists who did not go to school.

But Bloch, the California researcher, examined the Florida study at the request of the St. Petersburg Times and found flaws in the way it was conducted. It appeared to him that the study groups were not chosen in a way that statisticians would consider random.

Mike Gebers, a research scientist with the California Department of Motor Vehicles, said the sampling methods and statistical techniques almost guaranteed a positive result.

Ann Howard, a spokeswoman for the Florida motor vehicle agency, acknowledged that the study was limited.

"As we point out in our study, we cannot completely isolate the effect of driving courses on driving behavior," she said.

"However, our effectiveness studies have produced consistent results, leading us to believe that the course had at least some positive effect on driving behavior."

• • •

Moye, 35, now faces charges of DUI manslaughter and vehicular homicide in the Harbour Island bridge case. No trial date has been set. His next court hearing is Sept. 21.

The speed limit on the bridge was 30 mph. Investigative reports show that Moye reached 89 mph seconds before impact. His blood alcohol was 0.13 percent, which exceeds the level at which the state presumes impairment.

He had no Florida arrest record before the crash but had collected 19 traffic citations in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and Minnesota, dating back to 1998.

About half were dismissed or adjudication was withheld.

Under the law, a driver must have a minimum of 12 points in a one-year period for a 30-day suspension.

Even if Moye had been convicted in every case, the most he would have received in a one-year period would have been 11 points from 2009 to 2010.

He still would have been able to drive the night of the Harbour Island crash.

Times news researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Dan Sullivan can be reached at dsullivan@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3321.

How many points can a driver receive for a speeding violation?

Less than 15 mph = 3 points

More than 15 mph = 4 points

If speeding is a factor in a crash = 6 points

How many points would result in a suspended license?

12 points in 12 months = 30-day suspension

18 points in 18 months = three-month suspension

24 points in 36 months = one-year suspension

Matthew Moye's road record

. Aug. 26, 1992: Failure to obey a traffic control device. Ordered to attend defensive driving course. (Pinellas County)

. Nov. 27, 1998: Speeding, 86 mph in a 70 mph zone. Convicted, 4 points on license. (Georgia)

. Aug. 10, 2000: Speeding, 65 mph in a 45 mph zone. Convicted, 4 points on license. (Alachua County)

. Nov. 15, 2000: Failure to wear a helmet or goggles. Convicted, no points. (Alachua County)

. Nov. 15, 2000: Operating without proper license. Adjudication withheld. (Alachua County)

. March 9, 2002: Expired license, 4 months or less. Convicted, no points. (Pinellas County)

. April 9, 2002: Speeding, 67 mph in a 55 mph zone. Convicted, 3 points on license. (Alachua County)

. May 13, 2002: Failure to obey traffic sign or device. Convicted, 3 points on license. (Alachua County)

. Dec. 28, 2002: Seat belt violation. Convicted, no points. (North Carolina)

. Aug. 23, 2003: Speeding, 61 mph in a 30 mph zone. Adjudication withheld. (Hillsborough County)

. May 25, 2005: Seat belt violation. Dismissed. (Hillsborough County)

. May 25, 2005: Speeding, 70 mph in a 55 mph zone. Dismissed. (Hillsborough County)

. Nov. 15, 2005: Speeding, 71 mph in a 45 mph zone. Dismissed. (Hillsborough County)

. Oct. 13, 2007: Speeding, 79 mph in a 70 mph zone. Convicted, 3 points on license. (Polk County)

. Nov. 19, 2008: No proof of insurance. Dismissed. (Hillsborough County)

. March 25, 2009: Speeding, 82 mph in a 65 mph zone. (Hillsborough County)

. Aug. 12, 2009: Speeding, 82 mph in a 65 mph zone. Adjudication withheld, paid fee. (Hillsborough County)

. Aug. 7, 2010: Speeding, 90 mph in a 55 mph zone. Adjudication withheld, paid fee, elected traffic school. (Hillsborough County)

. Aug. 28, 2010: Speeding. Convicted, 3 points on license. (Minnesota)

. Oct. 30, 2010: Crash. Charged with DUI manslaughter (two counts), vehicular homicide (two counts), DUI with property damage or personal injury (two counts), battery on a law enforcement officer. Case pending in Hillsborough Circuit Court.

Sources: County and state records

Tickets and traffic school no deterrent to fatal Harbour Island crash 09/05/11 [Last modified: Thursday, September 8, 2011 5:12pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Pinellas licensing board executive director settled hundreds of cases without getting his board's approval

    Local Government

    By Mark Puente

    Times Staff Writer

    Eleanor Morrison complained to the Pinellas licensing board in 2015 that her contractor installed crooked walls and windows and poured too much concrete for her carport.

    Eleanor Morrison poses at her home in Treasure Island, 5/26/17. Morrison filed a complaint with the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board and later learned that its former Executive Director, Rodney Fischer, dismissed the case in a private meeting with the contractor.
  2. Report: Kusher wanted secret communications channel with Kremlin

    World

    Jared Kushner and Russia's ambassador to Washington discussed the possibility of setting up a secret and secure communications channel between Donald Trump's transition team and the Kremlin, using Russian diplomatic facilities in an apparent move to shield their pre-inauguration discussions from monitoring, U.S. …

    The name of Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump's White House senior adviser, has come up as part of the Russia investigation. [Associated Press]
  3. Rays pitchers rave about Twins pitching coach, ex-mentor Neil Allen

    The Heater

    MINNEAPOLIS — There have been a lot of coaches who have had a hand in helping Chris Archer get to the big leagues and to the front of the Rays rotation, and as he took the mound Friday night at Target Field, he had reason to nod appreciatively toward the home dugout.

    Minnesota Twins pitching coach Neil Allen jogs back to the dugout after paying starting pitcher Tyler Duffey a visit on the mound in the first inning of a baseball game against the Texas Rangers on Thursday, July 7, 2016, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
  4. Swan sculpture deputies say was stolen by naked man found near Lakeland pond

    Crime

    A $25,000 swan sculpture that Polk County sheriff's deputies say was stolen by a naked man last weekend was found near a pond in Lakeland on Thursday.

    A swan sculpture that was stolen in Lakeland on May 19 was recovered by the Polk Sheriff’s Office on Friday.
  5. Mayor Rick Kriseman says St. Petersburg mayoral election is about going forward, not back

    Blogs

    ST. PETERSBURG — Mayor Rick Kriseman christened his campaign office Friday evening by telling his supporters that the mayoral election was about moving forward, not backward.

    Mayor Rick Kriseman says mayoral election is about inclusiveness Friday at campaign office rally