The End Of The Road
6:56 am
Mon February 17, 2014

Why You Don't Get Speeding Tickets From Your SunPass (And Why @EvanBenn Owes Us)

An FHP trooper in one of the few places on 95 Express where the shoulder is wider than eight feet.
An FHP trooper in one of the few places on 95 Express where the shoulder is wider than eight feet.
Credit Kenny Malone

Two weeks ago we brought you a story about how the Florida Highway Patrol has been flooded with complaints about unchecked speeding in the I-95 Express Lanes. As FHP explained, there's only so much they can do given the abnormally narrow shoulders in those lanes.

 "You’d be putting your life in danger and you’d be putting the lives of the motorist in danger,” said Trooper Joe Sanchez. He pointed out that the shoulders are so narrow in some places, his patrol car is just about in the express lanes when he pulls over.  

Our colleague Evan Benn took that story the wrong way: 

Benn, a business reporter at the Miami Herald, was speeding to an interview in the express lanes and was pulled over by a motorcycle trooper.

“I’m really ashamed and embarrassed," Benn told the trooper. "I’m sorry because I just read this story in the Miami Herald yesterday about how difficult the express lanes are to enforce.” 

After that story ran, many listeners and readers wondered why this kind of speeding enforcement is even necessary anymore.

"Why not use the tolling system itself to catch and fine the speeders?" asked Al Sasiadek of Morningside. "A ticket could be issued just like it’s done for toll-by-plate or the red light cameras.”

After all, your SunPass registers when you enter the express lane -- a specific time and location. If FHP could register the transponder again further down the road, they would know whether or not you were speeding between entrance and exit.

We heard versions of this same idea from a number of people. And the short answer is: "Nothing's impossible," said former prosecutor Katie Phang. 

Whether or not it would cause more problems is another question.

Phang, a partner at Arrastia, Capote & Phang, says any new technology will come under major scrutiny.

"I’m going to want to attack the reliability of the transmission of the information," said Phang. "How was the transponder transmitting this information? Is there some huge mainframe that’s sitting in Tallahassee that’s spitting out this data? I want to know how this happens because it’s based upon a time and date stamp."

That could mean more time in court, plus regular calibration of the equipment, plus an expert to testify about the equipment. Phang wonders if it might just be easier -- and cheaper -- to hire more troopers to patrol the express lanes.

Defense attorney and former prosecutor Vincent Duffy isn't particularly fond of the idea, but he says red light cameras have certainly set a precedent.

"The government is now sanctioning citizens because their property, not them, but their property that they own has been involved in violating a non-criminal statute," he said. 

Most red light cameras take a picture of the license plate. That picture along with a ticket gets sent to the vehicle’s owner. Duffy says he’d have a lot less of a problem with automated systems if they could take a picture of the vehicle’s driver too. That way it’s on law enforcement to show who broke the law. 

There's also the issue of whether or not using the tolling system to enforce speed would require new legislation. The Florida Rules of Traffic Court name only five admissible speed measuring devices: radar, laser, pace car, aircraft and VASCAR. 

Unfortunately for Evan Benn, there's no debate about those five techniques. But the trooper who pulled him over had also read our story and apparently appreciated Benn's roadside empathy so much that he let him off with a warning.

While leaving readers more informed is, of course, reward enough for The End of the Road project, it’s worth pointing out that a ticket for going 19 MPH over the speed limit would have cost Evan Benn $269 in Miami-Dade County. Certainly he could afford to buy us a well-reviewed beer or two for being so informative.

In addition to his staff job at the Miami Herald Evan Benn is a beer columnist for Esquire.com. He is author of the book "Brew in the Lou: St. Louis' Beer Culture, Past, Present & Future." You can see all of WLRN's The End of the Road project here.