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Monday, October 31, 2011

Hold Accountable Whistle Blowers with Malicious Intent


Get Bad Drivers off our roads, but not good ones you dislike

I don’t mean to sound like a broken record (or should I say defective audio chip) these days.  This is the 4th article I’ve written on the subject of Florida’s dumb law (see www.DumbLaw.org), 322.126(2), (3). This is the law that allows “any person” to report in confidence any Florida driver as being physically or mentally impaired and be held harmless from any civil or criminal liability even if it can be proven it was done with malicious intent.  

No one is a greater advocate than I for removing bad drivers from Florida’s roads. I see them daily and am convinced that they are responsible for a large percentage of highway deaths, injuries, property damage and soaring insurance rates. But I’m also a strong advocate of the facts that the end doesn’t always justify the means and that everyone should be held accountable for their wrongful acts.

Last Friday, I had a very productive meeting with Representative Irving Slosberg of Florida’s 90th district in Boca Raton. He impressed me very much with his openness to my suggestions. I conversed with him and his two aides for about 45 minutes.  His office is at 9045 La Fontana Boulevard, Suite 117. When I walked in the front door there was no one in the front office. I heard a dog barking in the back and Irv came out with his dog, Soldier, a fine looking Terrier, on a leash. He asked me if I like dogs and said, “Very much”. Soldier joined the meeting and anybody who loves dogs this much has to be a good guy.  I also learned that I didn’t even need an appointment because Irv Slosberg has an open door policy. Anybody who needs help can just walk into his office at any time. This is very rare for a politician and, before I left, I told Irv that we needed more guys like him in Washington D.C.

During our conversation he called one of the higher ups of the FHSMV (Florida Highway Safety and Motor Vehicle department). This FHSMV person was aware of me and told Irv Slosberg that he was the fourth caller about the “Earl Stewart’s problem”. This person, not surprisingly, was not at all sympathetic to my position. He pointed out that the informants were not anonymous as I had incorrectly stated, but were “only” confidential. He is exactly correct, there is a shade of difference between the definitions of confidential and anonymous. Because the FHSMV knows the name of the informant but won’t tell anybody else, including the accused, the informant is confidential.  Anonymous would mean that not even the FHSMV would know the name of the informant. Of course, the net effect is exactly the same because the informant is held harmless even if the motive for turning in a driver was purely malicious. It makes no difference if the FHSMV knows the identity of the informant if they will not tell anybody else…not the accused, not the accused’s lawyer, the police, or even a judge.  And, if through a fluke, the identity was known and it could be proven the intent was malicious, the informer is held harmless from civil suit or criminal liability.

Representative Slosberg was incensed when I explained to him why I believed that I knew the person who had informed on me did so for revenge and why I’m 99.9% sure that I know who he is. He agrees with me that this is the part of the law that must be changed. A person who takes it upon himself to try to have another’s driving privileges revoked must be held accountable if this is done falsely and with malicious intent.

However, Irv Slosberg did not think that my going public with my opposition to this bad law was a good idea. He felt that the more people who know about this law, the greater the potential for abuse.  I have to agree with him that more awareness of this bad law will generate more abuse. But I can’t agree that this justifies keeping quiet about it. In fact, if more people like me are willing to stand up and be counted, we may be able to expedite changes in this law. This law has been on the books too long, seventeen years, and the reason it’s been there so long is that people only became aware of the law when they fell victim to it. Most of the victims never responded to the letter from the FHSMV and continue to drive their cars, but now with no license and no insurance. They don’t speak out because of the same reason they don’t take the driving, written, hearing, and eye tests…fear.  Who wouldn’t be afraid of even the remotest chance to lose their driving privileges?  Why not gamble that a policeman will never stop you especially since most people have never been stopped before…especially if you’re a good driver. Would you take a chance that some FHSMV bureaucrat may mistakenly fail you in some part of the test if you didn’t have to? God knows government bureaucrats make lots of mistake…we read and hear about them in the new every day. The letters from the FHSMV are mailed out regular mail, not certified as they should be. Who’s to say your letter wasn’t lost in the mail? In fact, I’m certain that some letters are lost in the mail and some letters are accidentally thrown out, what with all of the junk mail we receive nowadays. This means that there are probably also lots of drivers without licenses that don’t even know that their licenses are suspended.  

Please sign my petition at www.DumbLaw.org. Next Tuesday, I will be taking my driving, written, eye, and hearing tests and, of course, I will pass them all and retain my license. Don’t sign this to help me, but sign this petition for those who can’t or won’t stand up because they’re afraid. Sign this petition because this law is un- American because the state should not protect someone when they maliciously attack another by concealing their identity and shielding them from all civil and criminal liability.


Monday, October 24, 2011

Sun Sentinel Defends a Dumb Law


  I’ve written two blog articles on the subject of Florida’s dumb law allowing “any person” to anonymously report you or me as an “impaired drivers”. Perhaps the worst part of this dumb law is that even if it can be proven the report was unfounded and had malicious intent, the informer is indemnified from all civil or criminal liability.  Why am I writing a third column on this subject? It’s because the Ft. Lauderdale Sun Sentinel published a headline article in its Sunday, 10-23-11, edition supporting this law and the AP picked up the story, a release of which was published in the Monday, 10-24-11 edition of the Palm Beach Post and many other newspapers nationwide. I suspect that these articles were the result of press releases by the Florida Highway Safety and Motor Vehicle department, FHSMV, who enforces this dumb law. You can read the article by clicking on the link, www.FHSMVDumbLawArticle.com.

  I’m asking you to sign an electronic petition to change this law to remove the anonymity and “hold harmless” sections. Please click on www.DumbLaw.org. Below, I’ve addressed various omissions, misunderstandings, and distortions of the article from the Sun Sentinel. I’m sure that when you’ve read both the article and my comments you will agree that this law needs to be changed.
(1)               It acknowledges that “most of the drivers lost their privileges because they didn’t submit detailed medical information requested by the state to show they are still able to drive.” What they don’t do is drill down and ask the question, WHY don’t drivers submit their medical information? Is it always because they know for certain that the medical information would have resulted in a license suspension? Or is it often because they are simply afraid and unsure? My personal situation is a good example. When I first got the letter from the FHSMV, I was concerned that I might fail a hearing test. I’m a former hunter and I have high frequency hearing loss in my left ear. It wasn’t until I read the Florida Driver’s Handbook that I discovered that a driver’s license cannot be revoked for being hard of hearing or even deaf. Supposing I had been too afraid to take a hearing test and chose not to respond to the letter with the following reasoning…If I drive carefully, the odds are 99.9% that I will never be stopped by a policeman and asked to show my driver’s license? I can probably keep quiet about the letter, keep on driving, and nobody will ever be the wiser. The worst case scenario is I get stopped sometime in the future, and they cite me for driving with a suspended license. I claim that I never got the letter asking me to take the test which was sent by regular mail, not certified. I’ve had the benefit of years of driving that I would otherwise have lost and I can, even then, agree to take the test and hope I pass it. The alternative to this is to respond immediately and risk taking the test and losing my driver’s license. Think for a minute about how terrifying it is to lose your right to drive a car in Florida. During this Great Recession it was shown that many people choose to have their home foreclosed on rather than their car repossessed. Keeping their car allows them to get to drive to work ,the doctor, the pharmacy, the grocery store, etc. and continue with their lives. They can sleep and live in their car which is a hardship, but at least they can still have a life.  
(2)               The article acknowledges that this is a “little-known law”. But this front page article and other recent media attention will soon make this a “well-known law”. Up until now only 11% of anonymous informants have been non professionals (regular people, not doctors and police). What will happen when every “person” which is the other category specified in the law who can make an anonymous report learns of this law? What happens when angry neighbors, divorce litigants, estranged spouses, political opponents, jilted lovers, disgruntled and fired employees, business competitors, pranksters and sociopaths (Psychologists say that 1% of the population are born sociopaths and 10% more become so because of their environment)  learn about this perfect tool for revenge on somebody they don’t like?
(3)               The article points out that 42% of anonymous informants are cops. Several questions occur to me that the media has left unanswered. Why would a policeman waste the time of filing a report to the FHSMV instead of taking immediate action to remove an impaired driver from the roads? Police take drunk drivers off the road immediately, why not legally blind drivers? Why does a cop want to remain anonymous and immune from civil or criminal liability? The answer to this question might be frightening. A cop isn’t afraid to “look you in the eye” when he gives you a speeding ticket, makes you take a breathalyzer or blood alcohol test, and cites you for DUI. He’s not anonymous and he faces civil and criminal liability if he carelessly and/or maliciously does any of these things. Unfortunately in our society, instances of police brutality, sexual harassment, and other police abuses of power are not uncommon. Some police forces are requiring video cameras be placed on squad cars and even then, we’re discovering cops who take advantage of civilians because they have the power to do so. Is it so farfetched to think that a cop who has been “smarted off to” by a traffic offender might get even with him by reporting him as impaired driver…especially since he remains anonymous and is immunized from all civil or criminal liability? When a cop or doctor makes the anonymous complaint, there is no investigation of the complaint as there is if a non professional is the informant. The person reported is ordered to immediately take driving, written, eye, and hearing tests. In my personal situation, I suspect a policeman as being the anonymous informant. Of course I can’t prove it and, if I could, I could take no action against him. My reasons for my suspicion are that I was ticketed for speeding while driving in the right hand (slow) lane while cars passed me on the left. The cop was annoyed at me because I didn’t pull over right away. I didn’t pull over immediately because there was no safe place to pull over and I was driving with the windows up and while conversing on my cell phone and simply didn’t notice him at first. I got the letter from the FHSMV in the mail a couple of weeks after I was ticketed. At this time I learned that this policeman was married to an ex employee of mine that I had fired and who subsequently sued me for firing her. I’m not just a good driver; I’m an excellent driver with 20-20 vision, adequate hearing, fast reflexes, and a sharp mind. I’ve never had a traffic accident but I admit that I do drive slightly over the speed limit as do most drivers. Whoever reported me clearly did it for malicious reasons.
(4)               The AARP in the past has opposed age based additional road testing for drivers according to this article. I have some contacts in Tallahassee that spoke to me off the record Legislators tried to get age based testing into the law but AARP stopped this dead in its tracks. However, the FHSMV is proceeding to do this in spite of it not being in the law. They have taken it upon themselves to send out letters to all of those seniors who have reached 70 who have also not renewed their license in person in the past 5 years. They have renewed by mail on online. In my opinion, if this is true, it is a serious violation of the law by a state agency.

If you agree with me, please click on www.DumbLaw.org and sign my petition. 

Monday, October 17, 2011

Good People Make Good Car Dealerships


In my columns over the years,  I've always advocated carefully choosing the car dealership that you buy your vehicle from or allow to service it. I still believe this is important. In fact, I recently published a list of dealers that I recommend you buy your car from and a list that I recommend you avoid. We've all visited a restaurant or retail store and had a terrible experience with a waitress, sales person, or other employee and never returned. Yet, we’ll friends recommending the same store that we swore never to patronize. We condemned an entire company because of one person.

I also wrote a column a couple of years ago in which I suggested that you carefully choose the individual who advises you and sells you service on your car.  These individuals are really commissioned sales people who sell you service just like car sales people sell you cars. Unfortunately most dealerships call them something else like “assistant service manager” or service advisor. In my dealership we used to call them Assistant Service Managers because that’s the term that Toyota uses. We now call them “service advisors” because too many people thought they were dealing with the service manager. In all candor, I’d feel more comfortable naming them what they are, “service sales people” and I may make that change.
As I was rereading this old column, it occurred to me that the same recommendation applies to all companies, not just car dealerships and it applies to all departments in a company. Whichever car dealership you choose, take the time to pick and choose those individuals you deal with. Car dealerships, just like other organizations, are nothing more than the sum of their parts…their people. You should get to know the person who sells you service and, if you don’t like him, ask for another person to handle your service requirements. You should also meet and cultivate a manager in the service department.
The same holds for the sales department. When you buy a car, don’t settle for the first salesman who approaches you. For example, if you’re a woman you may feel more comfortable dealing with another woman. Or, if your native language is Spanish or Cajun, you may feel more comfortable with one who can converse with you in your native tongue. Don’t be shy about asking and don’t feel bad about hurting the feelings of the first sales person. An automobile is the 2nd largest purchase most people make and it’s very important that you feel comfortable with the person selling it to you. Furthermore, if after dealing with your sales person for a while, you think you made a bad choice, ask to speak to the sales manager or general manager. Believe me, car buyers hold all the cards in today’s shaky economy and no sane sales manager is going to lose a sale because a prospective customer doesn’t like or trust the sales person she’s dealing with. He will handle your sale personally or choose another sales person you do feel good about.
Car dealerships have other departments including parts, finance and insurance, accounting, and some have body shops. My same recommendation applies to all departments. A word of caution, when you ask to speak to a manager, be sure you’re really are truly speaking to one. Car dealerships are notorious for calling rank and file employees managers to trick the customer.

My purpose in writing this column is in realization of the fact that there are no perfect companies, especially car dealerships and that includes mine. I employ 130 individuals and I would be less than candid if I didn’t say I have a few rotten apples in my barrel. Unfortunately, I don’t know who they are and finding them is a continuous work in progress. The same thing applies to all companies including car dealerships. In my list of recommended dealers, there are some employees of those dealerships who would take advantage of you but most would not. In those dealerships that I recommend you don’t buy your car from, there may be a few honest, courteous employees. Then there are all the dealerships that I don’t put in either category. Your odds of finding the right individual are much better if you patronize a good company or car dealership, but don’t totally let your guard down.

 Just stay away from the ones that I recommend you don’t deal with. In every organization there’s a tipping point. A great company reaches a critical mass of good employees and as their reputation grows, more good employees from other companies seek to be employed there. Honest, hardworking, courteous people enjoy working in an environment where others are like them. The same holds true for evil dealerships and bad companies (those on my “don’t buy” list). A good person with a conscience has a very difficult time functioning in an environment where, from top management all the way down, the design is to trick and take advantage of customers. These few good people don’t last long in evil dealerships and flee to a place where they can treat their customers in a manner that lets them sleep at night. 

Monday, October 10, 2011

Your Angry Neighbors (or anybody else) Can Cause You to Lose Your Right to Drive!


I wrote another column on this subject last March and an update a few weeks ago, but it really came home to roost personally in the last two weeks. Just when you think our state government can’t pass a dumber law, you find one that sets a new record. This is the law that allows the Florida Highway Safety and Motor Vehicle department (FHSMV) to force you to take written, driving, hearing and eye examinations based on any person who says you are an impaired driver. No evidence is required, just the say-so of any person in the USA. As if this isn’t dumb enough, the informant remains anonymous and is indemnified from any civil or criminal liability. This means that if you don’t like the way Florida Governor Rick Scott is doing his job, all you have to do is download a form from the FHSMV website (www.flhsmv.gov/ddl/faqmed.html), fill it out, and email it to Tallahassee. He will be investigated as to his driving impairment and can be required to take a written, driving, eye, and hearing exam. If you wanted to “rub it in” you could voluntarily dispense with your granted anonymity and tell the Governor that you did this just because you don’t like him and he could not prosecute you criminally or sue you in a civil court.

Somebody turned me in and I will be going through these various driving tests. I strongly suspect that I know the identity of the person who turned me in. This person bears a personal grudge against me and knows that I’m a perfectly good driver without any “impairment”, but I have no choice but to follow the dictates of the FHSMV with great inconvenience and embarrassment.  The changes I wish to make in the law are to hold accountable people who maliciously turn in others. I should be able to sue this person in a civil count for libel. And I certainly should be able to learn the identity of that person under my constitutional right to face my accuser. Dictatorships like Iran and communist countries like China, not democracies like us, encourage anonymous informants to accuse their fellow citizens without proof and punish the accused, allowing them no means of recourse or retaliation against their accuser.

If all of the above isn’t enough to anger or frighten you about this law, how about this? More than ten thousand such letters were mailed out by the FHSMV last year and more than seven thousand Florida drivers lost their licenses. Most of those who lost their right to drive were never tested. They simply chose not to show up and their licenses were automatically revoked. I’ve spoken to some of these drivers who called me as a result of this blog and my radio show. Their reasoning is that if they don’t show up and just keep driving, there is a very small chance of them ever being stopped by a policeman. Many never have been stopped because they are very good drivers. If they should be stopped, they can claim they never received the letter (It isn’t mailed certified). However, if they do take the test, there’s always a chance they may flunk something. Older drivers haven’t taken any kind of a written test in decades. It’s a little scary. Or how good is their hearing or eyesight? How good does the DHSMV expect their hearing and eyesight to be? There’s nothing in the letter to tell the recipient what criteria for hearing or eyesight is expected. What 70 year old hears and sees as well as she did 50 years ago? They reason that if they take the chance and fail, they are in far worse shape than if they simply gamble and continue to drive with no license. Why this all should anger and frighten you, is that all of these thousands of drivers with no licenses also have no insurance. What happens if one of them is involved in an accident with you?

Some of you may have seen the TV converge on my personal situation.  As I type this article, I’m awaiting a call from a major national news organization. All of the journalists that I’ve spoken to are equally aghast at this very bad Florida law. I discussed this twice on my Saturday radio show and my listeners were shocked that such a law could have been passed. By bringing this bad law out into the “cold light of day” through this blog and the media we can collectively change it.

I’m asking you and anybody you know to send an email to MyDriversLicense@ESToyota.com and state “Name and hold accountable those who would take away my right to drive” or whatever you would like to say in your own words. You can also fax this to 561 858-0746. I would especially like to hear from anybody that has received one of these letters from the DHSMV. Most importantly, please sign my petition at www.DumbLaw.org. I will forward all of your emails, faxes, and our signed petition to our Florida legislators as well as member of the Executive branch, including Rick Scott. I wonder if anybody will report him as an impaired driver…I certainly hope not. Oh, just in case you missed the website where you can download that form to report people, it’s www.flhsmv.gov/ddl/faqmed.html

Monday, October 03, 2011

Grandma's and Grandpa's "Freedom Machine"


I wrote this column four years ago but a recent incident made it very personal. Last Thursday, I received a letter from the Florida Highway Safety and Motor Vehicle Department (FHSMV). It said that “This agency has received information expressing concerns about your ability to driving safely. Please call the driver license office below to set up an appointment to take the vision, written, driving (in traffic) and hearing examinations. This came as a total surprise and I was very skeptical because I’m in excellent physical and mental health. My vision, hearing, and reflexes are more than adequate to drive a car. I have an “safe driver” stamp on my license and I’ve never had a traffic accident. I’m in the process of investigating this bizarre occurrence and my preliminary finding show that the FHSMV is not being forthright in their letter. In fact, letters are mailed to all Florida residents who turn 70 and renew their licenses online or by mail. After 80 these letters are mailed every other year. Testing based strictly by age is prohibited by law. Our legislators attempted to pass such a law but it was defeated by strong lobbying by the AARP. I will write a column on this when I have all the facts.

You may have read in the newspaper a couple of weeks ago about a 94 year old man who hit a woman riding a bicycle. It wasn’t the man’s fault; the woman, in her fifties, ran a stop sign. They put the old man in jail overnight and he was given probation because he was driving with no license. It had been taken away because he failed his driver’s test. He said he had to drive because he had to take his wife to the doctor and pick up medicine for her.

There is another reason that a lot of younger people don’t seem to understand why this old man still owned a car. If you are one of these people, think back to the first time you ever drove a car. Think back to the time you owned your first car. Can you recall that wonderful feeling of FREEDOM? No longer did Mom or Dad have to take you to school, to work, to the store, or to a friend’s house. Or, you didn’t have to take the bus, the street car, or impose on a friend who already owned a “freedom machine”. If you are a guy, do you remember how you felt when you first picked your girlfriend up at her home in your very own car? I don’t know about you, but I still feel a tingle when I think about it. I really can’t think of a more memorable experience in any young person’s life. Your first kiss is probably a close second [My first car was a 1951 Pontiac Chieftain & my first kiss was from Mary Ann Riggle during a “spin the bottle game”].

 If you are one of those younger people who curse at that gray haired driver in front of you because she is driving too slowly, just remember that she is probably a safer driver than you. Newspapers like to feature stories of senior citizens having accidents and questioning their mental and physical faculties for driving but insurance companies charge senior citizens lower premiums than you. That means they have fewer accidents and cause fewer injuries. Admittedly that is partly because we seniors drive fewer miles but it’s also because most of us drive slower and more carefully than you.

My Uncle Charlie died eight years ago. He was 94. My Aunt Marion died within a year of Uncle Charlie. They lived in the same very modest, small house on Valencia Drive in West Palm Beach for fifty years. But they always owned a Cadillac and it was always parked outside in their driveway. Up until the time they were in their late eighties, the highlight of their week was to take a Sunday drive in their shiny Cadillac. Uncle Charlie always drove. When his eyesight got too bad to drive, he still kept that Cadillac in their driveway, always clean and shiny. His eyesight was still good enough so that, from his rocking chair in his living room, he could see that big Cadillac sitting outside (and so could his neighbors).

My father died when he was 86 and he drove a Pontiac TransAm up until the very last. He had cataracts removed from both eyes and back then, you had to wear “coke bottle” style glasses to see after this operation. He had no peripheral vision and there were a lot of scrapes, dings, and dents that appeared on both sides of that TransAm. Thank God he never had a serious accident. I saw Dad every day and I would see that the dents and scratches were regularly repaired. He always said he didn’t know where they came from and I never questioned him about that. Maybe I was wrong, but I didn’t have the heart to ask him not to drive anymore. I knew how important that car was to Dad and I knew how devastating it would be to him if he couldn’t drive anymore.

You may have heard of George Greenberg a. k. a. the “Mayor of Clematis”. He died a few months ago at the age of 91. He owned Pioneer Linens on Clematis Street in West Palm Beach, a store founded by his father, Max, in 1912. George and I were close friends and I delivered a eulogy at George’s funeral at the request of his grandson and daughter. George always drove an old Buick station wagon, although he was a wealthy man and could have bought any car he wanted. A couple of years ago, George finally treated himself to a new Mercedes Benz SLK-Class convertible! Boy did George look good in that car and he was always smiling when he drove it! When he was diagnosed with brain cancer and given only months to live, he finally had to stop driving his freedom machine. His grandson drove him to our monthly dinner at Carmine’s Ocean Grille and picked him up. It never was the same for George after that.

At my Toyota dealership in North Palm Beach, we have a lot of older customers. It’s just the demographics of northern Palm Beach County. My average customer is 55 and I have lots of customers in their seventies, eighties, and nineties. Maybe it’s because I’m a senior citizen too, but I especially like talking to my older customers and I’ve become personal friends with some. I can tell you from personal experience how important their cars are to them in their latter years. During your middle years when you have so much more going on in your life, your car becomes more utilitarian and you take it for granted. But when you retire and your life is not as hectic your car returns to the importance it had when you were sixteen…your “freedom machine”.

We recently leased a new Camry to one of our very good customers. This was the third car that she got from us over the last seven years and she had just turned 90. One of my managers, who has worked for me for 20 years and is a neighbor of hers, handled the lease. About a month after she took her new Camry home, her Grandson learned of the transaction and demanded that we rescind the lease. When we spoke to our customer, she let us know that her Grandson was very upset with her for leasing the car. He didn’t think she should be driving a car anymore and that she wouldn’t live long enough to make all the payments on a 4 year lease. We offered to refund all of the profit on the lease (about $850), but the Grandson insisted that we take the lease car back. This would cost my company thousands of dollars because of the depreciation a car takes on as soon as it is titled as a used car.

Yesterday afternoon my customer’s Grandson and Stepson visited me in my office. They continued to demand that I rescind the lease [Only the leasing company, Southeast Toyota Finance can rescind the lease] and absorb the thousands of dollars in depreciation on 1 month old used car. They suggested that I may have broken laws by exploiting the elderly and that if I did not succumb to their demands they would sue me. They had already called Toyota to complain about my actions. Not so politely, I asked them to leave my office.

This experience troubled me for the rest of the day and even last night and is what inspired this column. Now I understand why I was so angry at the actions of my customer’s Grandson and Stepson. They didn’t seem to understand how much that car meant to their Grandmother/Stepmother’s happiness and what an important thing her “freedom machine” was to her.  I have to wonder how much of their ire was due to genuine concern for her or the potential financial impact on her estate. Her Grandson told me that she had put only 1,500 miles on her last car and what does she need a new car for? He just doesn’t get it! A new car is a lot more than just a way to get to the drug store. To a senior citizen it’s a source of pleasure, pride, and comfort, knowing that it’s in their driveway for everyone to see and it’s there if they need it.

One of my sons just called me to double check on the correct time for him to come over for Thanksgiving dinner today. I told him that I was writing this column and we discussed the subject. I also told him that I hoped that neither he, nor his two brothers would ever take away my “freedom machine”.