Florida drivers had the opportunity Saturday April 18 to pay off overdue citations without breaking the bank.
The Alachua County Clerk of Court hosted a promotion called Operation Green Light, a promotion put together by different clerks around Florida to entice people to pay traffic citations and get their driver’s licenses reinstated, said Alachua County Clerk of Court and Comptroller J.K. “Buddy” Irby.
The Clerk’s office partnered with collection bureaus over the state and convinced them to waive fees for the day, saving violators 30 to 40 percent, Irby said. Counties all over the state of Florida participated in the promotion, including Duval, Polk, Broward, Lee and Collier County. Palm Beach County and Broward County hosted their events November 8 and February 13, respectively.
The Alachua County Clerk of Court, located at 201 East University Ave., remained closed Saturday, April 18 during Operation Green Light. Assistant Clerk of Court Edward Stiles said that it would be too expensive to remain open for the promotion. Kathryn Williams / WUFT News
“If someone in the state of Florida doesn’t pay their citation within 120 days, we turn it over to a collection agency,” said Edward Stiles, Assistant Clerk of Courts. “The collection agency can add a surcharge for their services to collect the fee.”
It’s a two-step process, Stiles said. If someone had, for example, a $100 ticket, and it was not paid, their license would be suspended and then the fine would go to the collection agency. The fine would then be $135. They additional $35 is what is being waived.
Though the Clerk’s office was not open Saturday, postcards were sent out with 1-800 numbers and websites for participants to work through the collection agencies.
Irby said Florida clerks reported that over a million people in Florida are driving with suspended licenses.
According to the Florida Highway Safety and Motor Vehicle data, in 2013 there were over 15.4 million licensed drivers in the state of Florida and 3.9 million traffic tickets were issued. Ten percent of those tickets were due to invalid licensing.
Out of the closest surrounding counties to Alachua – Bradford, Gilchrist, Putnam, Levy and Marion – Alachua has the third highest number of licensed drivers as a percent of their population, behind Marion and Levy Counties, according to 2014 FHSMV and Census data.
“Here in Alachua County, we have almost 9,500 drivers who have a suspended drivers license and that is a great concern because not only are they driving illegally but if they get stopped again, it’s only going to get worse,” Irby said. “So we want them to pay their citation, drive legally and get everything up to date.”
In Gainesville, Attorney Christian A. Straile, Gainesville and Ocala Criminal and Traffic Defense Lawyer, sees people dealing with traffic citations weekly, usually involving speeding and careless driving.
“All ages, all races, all sexes,” Straile said. “Traffic has no bounds.” Straile, however, said the Operation Green Light was a bit misleading.
“It sounds great, but what if you’re an individual with several tickets?”
Straile said the problem is that people could pay their citation, and later be mailed a notice of suspension. The citation could still lead to additional points being added to someone’s driving record and too many of a certain type of suspension could lead to a habitual offense.
A habitual offender accumulates a certain number of convictions described in the 2014 Florida Statues within a 5-year period of time.
Additional traffic violations can also causes increases in insurance, sometimes over $1,000 per year, according to Straile.
“These are the things that your government doesn’t tell you about,” Straile said. “They’re trying to get these tickets off the books.”
Straile said it is important for Alachua County residents, and especially anyone who participated in Operation Green Light, to remember to update their address, which can be done at flhsmv.gov, in case they are sent any notices of suspension or further fines.
He also said a person has 60 days after they paid their citation on the 18th to ask for a modification, which may adjust the penalties they faced for their violation.
“Anytime you’re cited for anything, you should seek consultation,” Staile said.
Edward Stiles hoped that, if anything, drivers will be more cautious of their actions on the road.
“Most people get citations because they ran a red light, or they had an accident, they hit somebody, and you know…carelessness,” Stiles said. “That split second that somebody doesn’t pay attention can ruin a life.”