TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - A bill speeding along at the state capitol could make Florida’s highways some of the fastest east of the Mississippi.
The proposed law, which has passed the Senate and is awaiting action by the House, would allow traffic engineers to raise speed limits. If passed, some stretches of highways in the Sunshine State could go from 70 to 75 mph.
The Scripps Florida Investigative Team discovered many of the lawmakers who will be voting on the law have been caught breaking the existing laws.
The team obtained the Florida driving histories of every state legislator who has voted or will vote on the pending legislation. Of the 160 legislators reviewed, 35 have 10 or more violations on their driving record — 11 have 20 or more violations.
One lawmaker has been handed more citations than any other.
Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, 59, has been ticketed 43 times since he was first issued a Florida Driver’s license in 1973. That averages out to more than one ticket a year since he’s been driving. Among those tickets, Rouson has been charged with 11 speeding tickets since 2001.
Rouson was charged in May 2013 with driving 91 mph in a 70 mph zone in Madison County. He appealed the ticket and a judge reduced it to 79 mph in a 70 mph zone. That change kept four points off Rouson’s license.
In another 2013 case, Rouson received four points on his license for his involvement in a crash where another driver was injured. The accident report said Rouson ran into the other car while he was trying to operate his car’s navigation system.
In addition to speeding, Rouson was charged with running a stoplight in October 2013. He failed to pay his fine, and his license was temporarily suspended before being restored in March.
Records show Rouson has paid thousands of dollars in fines related to traffic citations since 2001.
“Since being elected, I’ve probably driven 250,000 miles. That’s not an excuse,” said Rouson. “I’m not proud of every mile of my journey.”
Sen. Maria Sachs, D-Delray Beach, 65, admits to having a bit of a lead foot.
“I like speed, I like fast cars, but I also like safety,” said Sachs.
She has been ticketed 18 times since receiving her Florida driver’s license in 1979. Between 2006 and 2010, she received speeding tickets for driving 89, 91 and 95 mph. In February 2013, a FHP trooper ticketed her for driving 74 mph in a 55 mph zone in Lake County.
Rep. Charles Hood, R-Daytona Beach, has received more than double the amount of Sachs. Hood, 60, has received 40 tickets in the past 35 years.
“If we’re voting for best driver of the year, I’m probably not it,” said Hood.
Some of the other notable violations uncovered include Rep. Douglas Holder, R-Sarasota, 47, who received a ticket in 2003 for traveling 103 mph in a 70 mph zone. Rep. Matthew Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, 32, has been cited for 16 tickets since 1999, including one for driving 60 mph in a 35 mph zone on Christmas 2011 in Jackson County.
Not all lawmakers have been ticketed for speeding. The Scripps Florida Investigative Team discovered 44 of the 160 legislators have not received any tickets in Florida including Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, 38, who introduced the bill.
“In certain areas, not all areas, speed limits should be raised a little bit,” Brandes said.
Not every lawmaker agrees with the proposed increase.
“If you make the speed limit 75, they’re going to drive 80. “If you make the speed limit 80, they’re going to go 85,” said Rep. Bruce Antone, D-Tampa.
Antone, 53, who sits on the Transportation and Highway Safety Committee, has had 21 tickets in the past 28 years.
“I probably could be a little more careful,” said Antone.
The maximum speed limit hasn’t been changed in Florida since 1996. Prior to 1996, the state followed the national speed limit of 55 mph.
“The system we have right now allows politicians to set the speed limits,” said Sen. Clemens, D- Lake Worth, who co-sponsored the bill. “What we’re going to do is let the Florida Department of Transportation determine what the best speed limit is for these roads.”
The lawmakers interviewed said their driving histories will not affect how they vote on the bill.
“I don’t want Florida to be known as fast, furious, Florida,” Sachs said.
Sachs voted no on the bill when it reached the Senate floor.
The current legislative session ends Friday, May 2.