Speedy Relief: Proposed traffic diversion program to ease ticket, court, DA backlog


DELHI - To modernize traffic enforcement and streamline the processing and prosecution of traffic tickets, Delaware County District Attorney Shawn Smith is proposing the implementation of a new traffic diversion program aimed at easing the burden of traffic tickets on drivers, his office staff and courts alike.

Why a Traffic Diversion Program?

The traffic diversion program was his idea, Smith said, noting that Delaware County is one of the few counties which do not use the program. Neighboring Broome, Otsego, and Chenango counties have a traffic diversion program to handle traffic - mostly speeding - tickets. He is hoping to bring Delaware County “up into modern times,” with the implementation of the program, Smith continued; modeling it after neighboring counties’ programs. A traffic diversion program requires approval from supervisors.

How it works

Typically, Smith said, when someone gets a traffic ticket, they have to appear in court, often more than once, to resolve the ticket. The new program would change that. Instead of multiple court visits, drivers can opt into the diversion program online and follow certain steps, including:

• Requesting an adjournment. Drivers would request a one-month adjournment to participate in the program.

• Drivers would upload their ticket and driving abstract to an online portal.

• An Assistant District Attorney (ADA) would review the tickets and narrative submitted in the portal.

• Based on driving history and the nature of the offense, drivers may be approved for the program.

• Eligible drivers would be required to complete an online defensive driving course.

• Upon completion, a traffic ticket will be dismissed preventing insurance rate hikes and “points” on a license.

What’s in it for the county and municipalities?

Smith is keen to dispel concerns about lost revenue for towns and villages. “The courts and towns will actually make more money,” he explained. “The state typically takes a $93 surcharge on each ticket, which we eliminate. Instead, towns and the county can split the program fees.” The county can decide to allow the local municipality to keep the revenue entirely, he said; which is what currently happens.

Smith is proposing a driver fee of approximately $300 for the diversion program. That  is less than the combined costs of court fines, surcharges, and driving courses under the current system. The money, or revenue, could then distributed between the county and the towns, potentially boosting local budgets significantly.

Advent ELearning, a company that would manage the online portal and disbursement of funds, will add on a fee - between 5 - 10% of the participation fee - to manage the administration of the program. The driver would pay the additional fee. There is no fee to the county or the local municipality, Smith stressed.

Sidney, Hancock and Cooks Falls (Colchester) courts are the busiest with traffic tickets, Smith explained. Hancock, which can have up to 100 traffic tickets on its docket, has established an “extra” day of court, specifically for traffic tickets, to eliminate wait-times for other cases. That, Smith said, also creates an additional court day for his office. Sidney also has a high volume of traffic tickets, Smith said, with Interstate 88 running through the municipality.

The math is “math-ing”

Smith acknowledges that law enforcement is not meant to be a revenue generator for a municipality. However, the fact is that courts are revenue generators through the imposition of fees and fines. The implementation of the program would simply keep that fine and fee money local; and it’s a lot of money. As an example, if there were 5,000 tickets per year processed through a traffic diversion program, it would create $1.5 million in revenue, which would be kept locally by the county or the town and/or village.

Streamlining the process

The program would not only save drivers time and money, but would also streamline court operations. The district attorney’s office currently handles approximately 10,000 tickets a year, Smith said, with significant time spent on correspondence and court appearances. By moving the process online, administrative tasks are reduced, and courts - and his office - can focus more on serious cases. The Delaware County District Attorney’s Office is staffed with six attorneys - three part-time and three full-time - and a number of support staff. The DA’s office covers 24 courts in Delaware County. Smith personally processes between 15 and 20 traffic tickets per day in addition to his other duties, he said.

Maintaining safety standards

Not all offenses will qualify. “If you pass a school bus or are caught doing 90 in a 50 mile per hour zone, you won’t be eligible,” Smith said of the parameters he hopes to implement. The program is designed for minor infractions, emphasizing education and deterrence over punishment.

Ineligible offenses in Broome County include speeding offenses in work or school zones; misdemeanors; felonies or any other offense involving any type of impairment; uninsured motorist; failure to stop for a school bus, and any zero point ticket that is not accompanied by a ticket with points. Examples of eligible offenses in Broom County include speeding (but not more than 30 miles over the limit), moving and equipment violations and cellphone violations.

Voluntary participation

Participation in the program is voluntary. If a driver or a court/municipality opts out, they can continue with the traditional court process, Smith said. He is certain, he said, that everyone will want to participate in the new program once it is established and people see how efficient it is.

Keeping roads safe

The ultimate goal, according to Smith said, is to enhance road safety. “A defensive driving class will deter more people from speeding or running stop signs than a simple fine. It’s about education and making our roads safer for everyone,” he said.

There has not been an increase in the number of traffic tickets issued by law enforcement, Smith said. “We just want to be more efficient in the way we are handling them and it makes money for the towns (and villages) and the county. It’s a no brainer,” Smith said.

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