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Drivers Are More Likely to Get Away With Criminal Traffic Violations in Miami-Dade Than Any Other Florida County

Drivers Are More Likely to Get Away With Criminal Traffic Violations in Miami-Dade Than Any Other Florida County

Miami-Dade County is the place in Florida where you're least likely to be penalized for a criminal traffic violation. But penalization rates differ widely across county lines, depending on the violation.
police officer writing ticket for moving violation
police officer writing ticket for moving violation Source: Getty Images

Florida drivers who have been cited for a traffic violation know that a fine or conviction isn't an inevitability. Violations both criminal and non-criminal — such as speeding or driving under the influence — can be dismissed or have adjudication withheld, or the violator could be found not guilty in court.

However, the chance of drivers paying a penalty can vary greatly depending on where they live, according to data from the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles.

Our analysis digs into three of the most common criminal traffic violations …

  • Driving under the influence (DUI)
  • Leaving the scene of an accident
  • Holding a suspended or revoked license

… and three of the most common non-criminal traffic violations …

  • Speeding
  • Running a red light
  • Lacking proof of insurance

We define penalization as having been found guilty of the violation, while non-penalization is when a case is dismissed, the perpetrator is found not guilty or adjudication of the violation is withheld. Penalized violations are divided by the total number of violations to calculate a penalization rate. Counties were excluded for a given violation if incidents numbered less than 100 in 2018.

… finding that the rate at which drivers are found guilty in court or pay a civil penalty (in effect, pleading guilty) for their violation varies greatly by Florida county. For some violations, the difference in penalization rate between counties can vary by as much as 80 percentage points!

Key findings:

  • Drivers in Miami-Dade are penalized at an especially low rate for some of the most common criminal traffic violations.
  • Drivers are also much less likely to be penalized for criminal and non-criminal traffic violations in Miami-Dade, Broward and Volusia counties.
  • Conversely, drivers in Polk, Sarasota and Marion counties have some of the highest penalization rates across these violations.
  • Manatee, Okaloosa, Santa Rosa and Gulf Counties rank as having the highest penalization rates for specific violations.

Florida counties that penalize criminal violations at the lowest and highest rates

Three of the most common criminal driving violations in Florida are:

  • Driving under the influence (DUI)
  • Driving while your license is suspended or revoked
  • Leaving the scene of an accident

Unlike with non-criminal violations, perpetrators of criminal violations must appear in court where they'll be found guilty or not guilty, have adjudication withheld or have their case dismissed.

When it comes to which Florida counties are the most forgiving of criminal traffic violations, there is a clear leader: Miami-Dade. For DUIs, driving with a suspended or revoked license or leaving the scene of an accident, drivers in Miami-Dade are penalized at a lower rate than any other county.

The three Florida counties in which these violations are penalized at the highest rate are Okaloosa (DUI), Manatee (driving with a suspended/revoked license) and Polk (leaving the scene of an accident).

Miami-Dade has the lowest penalization rates for DUIs at 38% below the Florida average

In Miami-Dade, only 32% of those cited for a DUI violation are found guilty. This is about 16% lower than the next closest county, Broward.

Penalization rate
Palm Beach55.7%
Total Florida average70.3%
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Of the 1,920 DUI dispositions in Miami-Dade in 2018, 979 cases (51%) were dismissed or found not guilty, 319 (17%) had adjudication withheld and only 622 (32.4%) were found guilty.

Okaloosa County has the highest rate of DUI penalization

Across the state in 2018, Florida found 70% of DUI violators guilty. But penalization rates varied from as low as 32% to as high as 96%.

Okaloosa had the highest rate of DUI penalization in the state. Of 410 violations, 395 drivers were found guilty.

Penalization rate
Total Florida average70.3%
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Penalty rates for driving with a suspended/revoked license in Miami-Dade are 33% below the Florida average and the lowest in the state

Miami-Dade is similarly an outlier for this violation, too. About 5.5% of violators are found guilty; Broward is the next closest county at 13.9%.

Penalization rate
Total Florida average38.0%
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Of the 21,995 dispositions of this violation in Miami-Dade in 2018, 17,749 cases were not guilty or dismissed (80.7%), 3,042 cases had adjudication withheld (13.8%) and only 1,204 violators were found guilty (5.5%).

In Manatee County, drivers are penalized at a higher rate than anywhere else for driving with a suspended or revoked license:

Drivers in Manatee County have been penalized at the highest rate than any other country for being on the road with a suspended or revoked license. Sarasota is a close second, and both have rates far above the Florida state average of 38%.

Penalization rate
Total Florida average38.0%
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Manatee lodged 1,097 dispositions of this violation in 2018, with 898 drivers found guilty. Most of the remaining cases had adjudication withheld, with only 45 being dismissed.

Penalty rates for leaving the scene of an accident in Miami-Dade are 26% below the Florida average

If a driver left the scene of an accident in Florida in 2018, the most common outcome was having adjudication withheld. Second most common is their being found guilty in court. In only 29% of cases is a case dismissed or the violator found not guilty.

In Miami-Dade, the script is flipped. Sixty-six percent of violators had their case dismissed. Only 5% were found guilty.

Penalization rate
Palm Beach20.9%
Total Florida average31.3%
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The second most common outcome for a violation — after dismissal — was for adjudication to be withheld, which happened for 29% of violations.

A violation for leaving the scene of an accident (approximately 15 thousand violations in 2018) is not nearly as common in Florida as a DUI (44 thousand) or driving with a suspended or revoked license (140 thousand). But it is a criminal violation, with the consequences depending on the severity of the injuries and property damage sustained in the accident.

Polk County residents are penalized at a high rate for not remaining at the scene of a accident

Drivers in Polk County were penalized at a higher rate (64%) than anywhere else in Florida. This is about 33 percentage points higher than the state average.

Penalization rate
Indian River56.1%
Total Florida average31.3%
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Of the 288 dispositions of this violation in Polk in 2018, 184 were found guilty, with most of the rest of the incidents (71) having adjudication withheld.

Florida counties that penalize non-criminal violations — speeding, running red lights and no proof of insurance — at the highest rate

By the numbers, speeding is by far the most common traffic citation in Florida. But red light violations and lacking proof of insurance also rank as two of the biggest non-criminal citations.

Drivers in Gulf County (speeding), Santa Rosa County (running a red light) and Marion County (no proof of insurance) were penalized for these non-criminal violations at the highest rate.

Florida drivers in Miami-Dade (speeding), Monroe (red light violation) and Volusia (no proof of insurance) were penalized for these violations at the lowest rates in the state.

Speeding: Miami-Dade drivers are let off the hook more often than not

In stark contrast to Gulf County, Miami-Dade drivers were rarely penalized for speeding violations. Data from 2018 shows a penalization rate of just under 10%.

Penalization rate
Palm Beach28.5%
Total Florida average42.2%
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Of the 74,365 speeding dispositions in Miami-Dade in 2018:

  • 41,393 violations were dismissed or found not guilty (55.5%)
  • 25,959 violations had adjudication withheld (34.8%)
  • 7,283 violations ended in paying a civil penalty or being found guilty (9.8%)

Withholding of adjudication does not necessarily mean there are no penalties. Drivers may still have to pay a fine, but it will generally prevent points from being added to one's driving license and the consequences that come from that.

Gulf County residents have to stick to the speed limit or face a penalty

If a driver is caught speeding along the coast in Gulf County, they'll almost certainly be paying for it. Of its 152 traffic violation dispositions in 2018, 136 of the speeders paid the civil penalty or were found guilty — a rate of almost 90%.

Penalization rate
Total Florida average42.2%
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Running a red light: Monroe County is the most lenient place for driving through a traffic stop

About 53% of red light violations are penalized in Florida — calculated by combining traditional red light violations with red light camera violations — but certain counties have a much lower rate. The lowest of all is Monroe County, penalizing violations 18% of the time.

Penalization rate
St. Johns24.0%
Total Florida average53.2%
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The biggest contributing factor to this low rate are cases in which adjudication is withheld. Of 181 dispositions in the county in 2018, 127 ended in withholding adjudication (70%), while 21 cases (11.6%) were dismissed.

But Santa Rosa County residents should take care to double check traffic signals

Santa Rosa County drivers are seeing red, with almost 2,500 red light violations in 2018. Most drivers in the county (2,333) were caught by a red light camera, so just because there isn't a police officer around doesn't mean drivers can't be caught.

Santa Rosa red light violations were penalized at a rate of 91%, so if a driver in the county was caught ignoring a red light, they almost certainly paid. This is almost 40 percentage points higher than the average penalization rate in Florida of 53%.

Penalization rate
Santa Rosa91.2%
Total Florida average53.2%
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No insurance details? No problem for Volusia County drivers

In general, there are low rates of penalization for Florida drivers lacking proof of insurance. Floridians can often get their violation dismissed if they bring proof of their insurance to court. But some counties dismiss measurably more cases than the state average.

Volusia ranks as the county with the lowest rate of penalization for drivers without proof of insurance. Only 2.1% of a total of 3,939 violations resulted in a disposition of guilty or paying the civil penalty.

Penalization rate
Total Florida average16.1%
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In fact, 83% of the violations in Volusia were dismissed, with the remaining violations having adjudication withheld.

Marion County residents should double check their glove box for insurance paperwork

Although drivers are generally penalized at a low rate for this violation (16% of violators for Florida as a whole), drivers in counties such as Marion, Walton and Duval were much more likely to be penalized than most of the state.

Penalization rate
Total Florida average16.1%
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Of the 819 dispositions in Marion County in 2018, 358 drivers paid the civil penalty and another three were found guilty in court.

By state law, Florida drivers are required to purchase a minimum coverage policy.


Data for traffic citations in 2018 in Florida was collected from the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (FLHSMV). In our analysis, we only included violations in which a disposition had been issued, so violations in which dispositions are pending were not included. Counties were only included in the analysis for a given violation if they had at least 100 violations of that type in 2018.

We define a violation as having penalized the driver when the disposition for a violation was categorized by the FLHSMV as:

  • Guilty
  • Paying a civil penalty

We define a driver as not having been penalized when the disposition for the violation was categorized by the FLHSMV as:

  • Adjudication withheld
  • Not guilty
  • Dismissed
  • Nolle prosequi

A driver may still suffer some penalty even when adjudication has been withheld but will generally not get points on their license.