1. News

Drunken driving is about to get more expensive in St. Petersburg

St. Petersburg will have the region’s first major law enforcement agency that’s allowed to fine vehicles linked to drunken driving.
Published Oct. 11, 2017

ST. PETERSBURG — Drunken drivers beware: St. Petersburg has made it even more expensive and onerous to face a charge of driving under the influence.

The City Council recently approved an ordinance change that will allow police to charge a $500 fine along with towing and storage fees to drunken drivers if they want to get their vehicle back from the impound lot after they've been arrested.

The law goes into effect Thursday, but police still need to train before they're ready to start fining vehicles. No date has been set yet for when that would start.

That $500 penalty would come on top of the four-figure sum in court fines and fees it usually takes to resolve a DUI case — and that doesn't include legal fees.

St. Petersburg City Council member Charlie Gerdes, a recovering alcoholic who has been sober for 22 years, said his own DUI arrest served as a wake-up call. Placing a stiff fine against a vehicle, he said, could do the same for someone else.

At the Oct. 5 meeting he voted with the 6-2 majority in favor of the measure.

"Difficult consequences to poor decisions is what changes behavior," he said. "Call Uber, call a taxi, save a whole lot of money and probably a life. There's just too many easy ways to save the $500."

The St. Petersburg Police Department will be the first major law enforcement agency in the Tampa Bay region to be allowed to fine vehicles linked to drunken driving.

The sheriff's offices in Hillsborough and Pasco counties and the police departments in Tampa and Clearwater told the Tampa Bay Times they're not considering this idea. The Pinellas County Sheriff's Office did not answer the Times' inquiry. The Port Richey Police Department already has the ability to levy such fines.

St. Petersburg police legal advisor Sasha Lohn told the council that making drunken driving an even pricier behavior sends an important message to residents that they shouldn't think about getting behind the wheel after drinking.

The change broadens an existing city ordinance that allows officers to charge the fine to vehicles involved with drug activity and prostitution.

The supervisor of the department's DUI unit suggested the change after officers who worked in narcotics and vice noticed a change in behavior in those subjected to the fine in addition to a criminal change, Lohn said.

So far this year, police have arrested 445 people on DUI charges, according to the city.

Council members Jim Kennedy and Ed Montanari, who both voted against the proposal, said they thought it would disproportionately affect poor people who be less likely to be able to afford the fine and associated costs.

"I don't want it to be a piling-on scenario," Kennedy said.

Added Montanari: "I'm thinking of the family if the car gets impounded. Somebody might lose a job, the kids might not be able to get to school."

Nothing in state law bars the city from adding DUI to its list of finable offenses, Lohn said.

But if the car is stolen or driven by someone who isn't the owner, Lohn said, then St. Petersburg police will not impound or fine it.

And the change isn't part of the state's contraband forfeiture act. The vehicle would only be subject to auction if the owner didn't pay the fine within 30 days. But a lienholder could repossess the vehicle, Lohn said.

Drivers contesting the fine can request a hearing with the city and can request an appeal. The city's decision can be appealed to circuit or traffic court depending on the circumstances of the case, Lohn said.

The $500 fine goes into the city's general fund.

The department will conduct a public education campaign before the fines start being imposed. The date that the fines start will be determined by St. Petersburg police Chief Tony Holloway.

Contact Charlie Frago at or (727)893-8459. Follow @CharlieFrago.


  1. U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland talks about holding a cell phone to his ear as he talks with President Donald Trump as he testifies before the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, during a public impeachment hearing of Trump's efforts to tie U.S. aid for Ukraine to investigations of his political opponents. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik) ANDREW HARNIK  |  AP
    Gordon Sondland told House impeachment investigators he pushed a “quid pro quo” with Ukraine because it was what the President wanted.
  2. The Florida Supreme Court building in Tallahassee. SCOTT KEELER  |  Times
    Department of Education attorneys say the lower courts ruled properly in tossing the case.
  3. Bob Larson, 81, from St. Petersburg, raises his hand to indicate he has a match while playing Bingo during a meal with fellow seniors in Langer Hall at the Sunshine Senior Center in St. Petersburg. Also present (but not pictured) is his wife, Janet Larson, 74. The Area Agency on Aging of Pasco-Pinellas funds 15 congregate dining sites in Pinellas and Pasco counties. The sites offer hot meals and socialization for 6,000 seniors. The Sunshine Center is one of those sites. DIRK SHADD  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Seniors are happy in their communities, but have concerns about health care, housing, transportation and support for caregivers
  4. Scott Purcell, a senior geophysicist with GeoView, left, and Mike Wightman, president of GeoView use ground penetrating radar technology to scan a portion of King High campus in search for Ridgewood Cemetery in Tampa, Florida on Wednesday, October 23, 2019.  OCTAVIO JONES  |  Times
    The mid-20th century Ridgewood Cemetery for the indigent and unknown was located on property later used to develop King High.
  5. Authorities say Rocky Ali Beamon strangled and stabbed 27-year-old Nicholas Anderson in January 2017 when they shared a cell at the Santa Rosa Correctional Institution in Milton. Florida Department of Corrections
    Rocky Ali Beamon previously had been sentenced to life in prison for a 2005 murder in Hillsborough County.
  6. The tenth annual Shopaplooza returns to St. Petersburg for the Thanksgiving Day weekend, but this time at the Vinoy Park and with major changes. LocalShops1
    The annual festival highlighting everything local was previously held at Straub Park. But that’s not the only change this year.
  7. Photo of the sign of the Skyway Marina District in St. Petersburg. [Photo Luis Santana | Times]
    The newest is being built on the site of the former Flamingo Resort.
  8. The Bookstore at the  Oxford Exchange during its First Friday event on 09/06/13. TIMES (2013)  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Plus other Instagram-worthy spots around Tampa Bay.
  9. FILE - In this Thursday, Feb. 22, 2018 file photo, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi speaks to reporters outside the West Wing of the White House in Washington, after meeting with President Donald Trump about about responses to school shootings. Bondi is preparing to defend Trump against accusations that he pressured a foreign government to aid his re-election campaign. And she’s stepping down from a lobbying where she represented foreign interests (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File) J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE  |  AP
    The special advisor to President Trump incorrectly stated Sondland’s role while appearing on national TV ahead of the EU ambassador’s testimony.
  10. Although people with insurance pay nothing when they get their flu shot, many don’t realize that their insurers foot the bill — and that those companies will recoup their costs eventually.
    Federal law requires health insurers to cover the vaccines at no charge to patients, but the companies eventually recoup the cost through higher premiums.