Eleven percent of traffic tickets issued in Vermont dismissed because of illegible handwriting, other factors - VTDigger

Eleven percent of traffic tickets issued in Vermont dismissed because of illegible handwriting, other factors

Keith Flynn, commissioner of the Department of Public Safety. Photo by Anne Galloway

Keith Flynn, commissioner of the Department of Public Safety. Photo by Anne Galloway

More than 9,000 traffic tickets last year were dismissed by police or the court, in some cases because officers’ handwriting was illegible, Department of Public Safety Commissioner Keith Flynn said this week.

The number of traffic fines issued statewide is declining, while the percentage dismissed, either by the court or police, is rising.

In fiscal year 2013, law enforcement officers — game wardens, sheriffs, municipal police and state troopers — wrote 83,681 traffic tickets, according to data from Flynn. Of those, 11 percent were dismissed.

In fiscal year 2011, 9 percent of the 91,743 tickets written were dismissed. In FY2012, 10 percent of the 86,676 tickets were dismissed.

“That’s a substantial number of tickets,” Flynn said.

The ticket decline and the dismissals have had a negative impact on the budget of the Vermont Center for Crime Victim Services, which provides compensation for victims.

E-ticketing is one option officials are considering to cut down on ticket errors, but an electronic system could take at least two years to implement, officials say.

State police, the agency Flynn’s department oversees, last year wrote approximately 28 percent of the tickets in the state. The rest were written by local departments, sheriffs and other law enforcement agencies.

Flynn last week originally told lawmakers in the House Appropriations Committee that 20 percent of all tickets written were illegible. He later clarified his remarks, saying 10 percent of tickets written were dismissed, by courts or the state.

Court officials Friday said they process all tickets they receive. The court can dismiss a ticket if a hearing magistrate rules in favor of a driver, or if an officer settles with the driver and dismisses a ticket, for example.

“Every complaint that is filed with the court is processed,” said Gabrielle Lapointe, clerk of the court at the Vermont Judicial Bureau, which has statewide jurisdiction over civil violations including traffic tickets.

Police may also choose not to file a traffic ticket complaint, but the court doesn’t receive a record of that, Lapointe said.

The Department of Public Safety is trying to determine why some tickets were dismissed, Flynn said. His data came from the Governor’s Highway Safety Program, the state police and an electronic ticketing study committee.

Lawmakers have included language in the budget bill this year instructing the court administrator’s office to gather information about the number of traffic tickets written in Vermont, how many were not able to be processed and the amount of fines uncollected as a result, said Rep. Peter Fagan, R-Rutland, a member of the House Committee on Appropriations.

Rep. Anne O’Brien, D-Richmond, said law enforcement should be held to the same standard set for other state agencies that have struggled with quality control. She compared the ticket dismissal rate to the high error rates reported for the food stamps program, and, she said, the cost of the errors should come out of law enforcement budgets.

The decline in traffic tickets has had a ripple effect. A portion of the revenue from the $47 surcharge on traffic tickets and court fines funds the Vermont Center for Crime Victim Services.

A December 2013 report to the Legislature said the center next year expects a budget gap in part because of the declining number of traffic tickets.

The Victims’ Compensation Fund, which the Center for Crime Victim Services administers, expects to end this fiscal year with the lowest balance in recent history and in FY2015 default by $411,000 as a result of declining traffic ticket revenue and the center’s growing expenses, according to the report.

Flynn said electronic ticketing would cut down on the number of tickets that can’t be processed because of bad handwriting or a pen that freezes in cold weather.

“Any time that you have human interaction with a piece of paper it provides an opportunity for something to go wrong,” Flynn said.

Electronic systems allow officers to scan a driver’s license and registration. The information automatically populates an electronic form and uploads to a database.

One impediment is the lack of Internet access in some parts of the state, Flynn said, but cost shouldn’t be a concern.

“We expect that over a period of time that there would actually be cost benefit to it,” Flynn said.

Robert Ide, commissioner of the Department of Motor Vehicles, Friday also said electronic ticketing is smart.

“It doesn’t matter how much it’s going to cost, it’s going to save,” Ide said.

Laura Krantz

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12 Comments on "Eleven percent of traffic tickets issued in Vermont dismissed because of illegible handwriting, other factors"


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rosemarie jackowski
2 years 9 months ago

Maybe it is time for schools to get back to the basics and teach penmanship, cursive writing – and what about how to diagram sentences.

Tom Pelham
2 years 9 months ago
This is not a new issue. At the suggestion of the Douglas Administration, the 2007 Budget Bill authorized the Tax Department to “study the potential for the conversion of the department of taxes into a department of revenue“ and craft “a feasibility report, including issues to be considered and, if found feasible, a proposed implementation time line as to the consolidation of revenue collection functions ……. submitted to the house and senate committees on government operations, appropriations, finance, and ways and means on or before January 15, 2007.” The above report was presented to the Legislature in a timely manner.… Read more »
Jacob Miller
2 years 9 months ago

The annual number of traffic tickets issued is declining so the solution is to spend money on equipment instead of training? Is the objective “public safety” or revenue enhancement to fund the Victim’s Compensation Fund?

The expense of a traffic ticket is the smallest cost incurred for a driver, as it also impacts their automobile insurance rate, credit score plus the “points” added to the driver’s license record.

If revenue is needed for the program, they should seek to raise a fee or tax, but that will not happen during an election year.

rosemarie jackowski
2 years 9 months ago

There is another ‘traffic’ issue that should be discussed… new rules for renewing drivers licenses. The poor take another hit. Probably, those with passports are not affected.

Even those who were born in the US and have lived here all their lives – and have had a drivers license for decades, will now have problems with documentation.

I guess this is a new rule coming down from the Feds…but really. The CIA and NSA knows what everyone just said in their last E-mail – but they can’t figure out where we were born???

File this under: Bureaucratic Harassment.

Jim Barrett
2 years 9 months ago

Maybe it is time for the state to not make budgets dependant on how many tickets are written. We didn’t know there was a quota system but this proves it…..write tickets or else!

Bryan Ashley-Selleck
2 years 9 months ago

I have to agree 100% with Jim Barrett! There is obviously a quota that needs to be met! So my question is this? How can you fund budgets based on fines? If no fines get committed then there is no budget!!! The system has become complacent on us breaking a law or committing a crime to fund themselves! The BIG PICTURE? The system cannot afford to have crime and breaking the law in any way go away. Even if it wants it too! Because then the law goes away! And we know they DO NOT want that. $$$$$ machine!!!

Ellen Fiske
2 years 9 months ago

yeah, our economy would completely fall apart if we were to all drive safely. Actually, no it wouldn’t- the police would just invent untrue reasons to write tickets. Actually, they already do that. That explains a few things…

Rod West
2 years 9 months ago

Go electronic. It will pay for itself just in the reduction in workforce needed to enter the tickets into the system. It’s 2014 and we still have clerks entering tickets?

Ivan Shadis
2 years 9 months ago

“Any time that you have human interaction with a piece of paper it provides an opportunity for something to go wrong,”

Stellar quote!

Charles Samsonow
2 years 9 months ago
A prime example of what the Idiot legal system hires. If you can’t write you basically can’t read – either . If you can’t read or write or both – how can you trust someone to act appropriately when they confront or arrest a citizen. The Upper Valley of VT & NH have a ton of idiot cops like that – and the idiot Lawyers and gullible stupid Judges to boot. Idiot judge junior in that area is a prime example – wouldn’t know the damn truth if it stood in front of him. But yet the stupid legal system… Read more »
Steven Farnham
2 years 9 months ago
Sometimes, I just have to stand in awe of the news media’s lack of critical thinking, thoroughness, and follow-up. Am I the only one wondering why a decrease in the number of tickets being written is a bad thing? Is it possible that the populace is behaving better? Or is it possible that the police have adopted a new set of priorities, harassing the general public less for minor infractions, and focusing on harder crimes (as they should be). Why didn’t the reporter ask about this? A couple months ago, our Governor announced to the entire nation that Vermont is… Read more »
Todd Spayth
2 years 9 months ago

“It doesn’t matter how much it’s going to cost, it’s going to save,” Ide said.

How comforting! With that mentality, we should should just skip this and go right to ROBO COP! So long as the programmer sticks to the law (as written) it should take ALL of the guesswork out of the equation.

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