Miami Traffic Tickets Double in Last Decade, Making Us by Far Worst Drivers in Florida
How did Miami drivers become the worst in the state?
If clues exist, they're buried inside a mammoth beige building tucked behind palm trees off Flagler Street just South of Doral. Here, down a hallway whiter than a psychiatric ward, are the offices of Alex Hanna — South Florida's most successful traffic ticket attorney.
You've seen his face. He's that swarthy guy wearing a dark suit and a darker expression while thrusting forth a traffic ticket on signs throughout Little Havana and Hialeah.
Behind the front desk, a large sign bears Hanna's dictatorial expression. Past two clerks wearing shirts emblazoned with his picture are hundreds of photographs of Alex Hanna: on the walls, inside the kitchen, on mouse pads. Some images show him holding babies. Others depict him posing with politicians. In picture after picture, he glowers and tells you not to pay your traffic ticket.
At 4 p.m. on a recent weekday, Hanna arrives at his sprawling office — one of nine across Miami-Dade — wearing a gray V-neck and blue jeans. He's balder, thinner, and more smiley than in his advertisements. He's also hugging an armful of Alex Hanna swag, including a mouse pad, a key chain, a baseball cap, two T-shirts, and a miniature bus bench. Each is branded with that iconic picture of him beside the admonishment "¡No pagues ese ticket!"
Don't pay that ticket: It's a choice more South Floridians than ever before are facing. Over the past decade, the number of traffic citations in Miami-Dade has nearly doubled, from 673,264 in 2003 to 1.1 million in 2012, according to state statistics. And for the traffic ticket attorney, a relatively new species of lawyer that acts more capitalist than counsel, this surge has presented an incredible business opportunity.
No one has taken greater advantage of it than Alex Hanna and Mark Gold, two lawyers who, in terms of flamboyance and sweep, dwarf every other traffic ticket attorney in the state. Every year, they together handle roughly 540,000 South Florida traffic ticket cases — one-third of our regional output. "No matter what," Hanna says, "everyone gets a traffic ticket."
Still, the dramatic uptick over the past decade in Miami-Dade has left officials grasping for answers. In Broward, for instance, the number of annual violations has plateaued at 500,000. Statewide, the numbers are also steady: On average, about 4.5 million tickets are issued every year. So what's up with Miami? "I had no idea it's gone up that much," murmured Joe Sanchez, a Florida Highway Patrol spokesman. "Well, we do have more people driving here than ever before. Plus more people are moving here, and there are a lot more SunPass violations."
But the real answer, says traffic ticket attorney Frank Menendez, has to do with demographics and immigration, which makes Miami an especially chaotic place to drive. "People come to this country and they don't know our rules or our signs right away," said Menendez, who owns TicketFit. "They drive like they're still in their own country."
Mark Gold, the five-foot-five owner of the Ticket Clinic, was the first one to recognize the lucrative aspect of traffic ticket economics. Because most adults drive, traffic tickets have the potential to affect nearly all of us, offering a tool not especially effective for most lawyers: mass advertising campaigns.