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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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