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A Times Editorial

Bad drivers need humbling experience of landing in driving school

Perhaps the humiliation of being treated like teenagers will convince Florida's most dangerous drivers to shape up. A new state law will send them back to driving school, and if they refuse to go or don't pass, they will lose their licenses. It is an appropriately tough tactic against these consistently careless drivers who endanger everyone around them on the roadways.

The new law, enacted as part of SB 1100, will apply to drivers responsible for three crashes within three years. They will have to attend a driver improvement course in addition to bearing any other penalties that result from being found guilty or pleading no contest to crash-related traffic offenses. But unlike other state driver improvement courses, which may be taken online or completed quickly in a classroom setting, this course will focus on behind-the-wheel instruction and include a behind-the-wheel test they must pass.

The law takes effect on Jan. 1, and the state initially said crashes that occurred before then would not count. But after the St. Petersburg Times editorial board asked why the law was not made retroactive, the executive director of the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, Electra Bustle, asked her legal advisers whether there was a way to draw into the net drivers already on their way to three crashes. They determined that the law could be enforced more broadly, so that as of Jan. 1, any driver who already has two crashes in two years and then gets a third will fall under the provisions of the new law.

No decision has been made yet about who will teach the classes. It could be specially trained government employees, private companies or even high school driver education teachers working under contract with the state, Bustle said. Since the classes will be individualized, they will be expensive — roughly $300 to $500, and the state wants to collect that cost from the offending drivers. Taxpayers certainly should not be tapped for the fee.

While many drivers who are careless or aggressive could benefit from taking driver education classes again, the state's intent with the new law was to nab the most dangerous offenders. Studies revealed that drivers who were guilty of three crashes in three years were likely to have numerous other traffic violations, thereby qualifying as the worst of the worst. The state estimates that about 3,200 drivers fit in that category last year. Almost 17 percent of those lived in Pinellas or Hillsborough counties.

Drivers who aren't deterred by multiple crashes and the potential for injuries, fines and jail time might not be changed by driving classes, either. But the law is one more tool the state can use against dangerous drivers, and it provides a mechanism to yank the licenses of those whose poor driving skills should keep them off the roads.

Bad drivers need humbling experience of landing in driving school 07/14/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 14, 2009 8:03pm]
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