Friday, March 26–Council Backs Changes In Traffic Ticket Policy

OCEAN CITY — The Mayor and City Council have penned support for a bill that would make it a requirement for motorists who receive a traffic ticket to elect on the spot whether they plan on going to court.

Upon Chief Bernadette DiPino’s request, Mayor Rick Meehan got the approval from the council last week and will give the nod of support to the bill’s passage in a letter to state legislators who are considering the bill that would cost a good bit of money on the front end (approximately $250,000 statewide for information technology upgrades), but save Maryland police departments a substantial sum of money in years to come.

“This bill failed last year, and we are hopeful that it will get passed through this year,” said DiPino. “It would save us a lot of time and resources if we could install a system that would ensure that people who say they are going to be in court for a traffic violation are actually going to show up.”

According to the District Court of Maryland, there were over 343,000 cases in which a traffic citation recipient failed to make a scheduled court date of the 1.2 million traffic citations resolved in the state last year.

DiPino says that the bill would require “traffic violators” to check a box at the time the ticket is issued that would signal their intent for a court date or if they are just going to pay the ticket and essentially plead guilty.

“Right now, there are three ways to do it – either, request a court date, pay the ticket by essentially conceding guilt or don’t request a court date and have one assigned to you,” the chief said. “This would allow the officer to know right away if he or she needs to plan on being in court for a traffic violation.”

Authorities have noted that this bill, if passed, could hold the potential to save millions of dollars for agencies throughout the state and help ease law enforcement budget concerns concerning overtime.

“This also simplifies the issue for the motorist as well,” said DiPino. “The current system can be complicated, and, of course, it will give us more resources in the field if officers aren’t spending time preparing for court appearances that never end up happening.”

Forty-seven states require that motorists request a court date for traffic violations.

Naysayers of the bill seem to point to the initial costs that it would require to update the software for state agencies to file this new “check-for-court-date” box, as the state is facing huge cash flow problems and looking to shrink the budget, not expand it.

DiPino said that she was unsure what her department’s exact statistics were when it came to officers who went to court dates, but other jurisdictions throughout the state have cited numbers that account for up to half of their total overtime budget costs.

DiPino says that she understands the concerns from a fiscal standpoint, but stresses that the long-term savings and the time it will free up officers to be better utilized in the field makes up for that in the long term.

Meehan pledged his support for DiPino’s efforts to be apart of the group to get this bill passed, after seeing it stall last year in the House Judiciary Committee.

“I think this is a fantastic idea, and it makes a lot of sense to do it this way, and the savings that it will bring in is substantial,” Meehan said.