County officials say there are tens of thousands of drivers on the road in Lee County who should not be sitting behind the wheel. Every day, they break the law, put public safety at risk and cost the county millions of dollars.
This was an issue and concern for counties addressed by state lawmakers during 2019 legislative session, so the state passed into law a requirement that clerks of court establish a driver license reinstatement days program.
Lee County told us 62,000 drivers in Lee County should not be on the road due to a suspended license. That’s almost as many people who live in Fort Myers.
“It’s astronomical,” Joelle Ruotsinoja said. “Kind of makes me wonder how it’s actually happening.”
Linda Doggett, Lee County clerk of court, told us those 62,000 people have suspended licenses due to running tolls, not paying fines and more.
“What used to be a $2 fine is now a $200 fine because of all the fees that have been added to the violation over time,” Doggett said.
That adds up to $40 million dollars that these tens of thousands of people owe Lee County.
“You just kind of have to wonder who the people are that are responsible for making sure that the debts are collected,” Ruotsinoja said.
Insurance companies can drop drivers with suspended licenses, putting everyone else on the road at risk.
“So if they go out and cause catastrophic damage to your property or worse your life or the life of your loved ones, then there is no protection for you,” said Jason Leonard, a personal injury lawyer. “Because they chose not to follow the law and be responsible.”
And, of course, a driver caught on the road by law enforcement is in trouble of ending up behind bars.
“Anybody who drives without a license is a safety issue,” said Sgt. Patrick O’Grady with Cape Coral Police Department. “Because if you get into a crash, you’re an unlicensed driver, that puts you in a potential for going to jail.”
DRIVER LICENSE REINSTATEMENT DAYS
To respond to the large numbers of drivers reportedly on the road when they shouldn’t be, Lee Clerk is bringing back “Operation Green Light,” which would help reduce the fine and reinstate driver’s licenses.
The project is set to begin Saturday, Oct. 12 at the Lee Clerk office. The operation continues the following week at both the clerk of courts and Lee County government center in Cape Coral. Both Collier an Charlotte County have “Operation Green Light” days scheduled as well.
- Driving without a valid driver license
- Driving with a suspended driver license
- Failing to make a payment on penalties in collection
- Failing to appear in court on a traffic violation
- Failing to comply with any provision of chapter 318 or chapter 322
- Court-ordered child support obligations
- DUI offenses
- Habitual traffic offenders
- Traffic related felonies
- Failures to complete driver improvement course, substance/alcohol abuse course (Unless proof of course completion is provided)
Ruotsinoja hopes all 62,000 drivers in Lee County with a suspended license take advantage of this program.
“The idea that someone could hit me and be uninsured and take out my vehicle, which is ultimately my source of work, is frightening,” Ruotsinoja said.