Are Traffic Tickets Issued For Revenue Generation Or Safety? The Debate Continues

While we know that traffic enforcement and traffic tickets do partially contribute to safer roadways by serving as a deterrent and by leading to license suspensions for the most persistent violators, we still like to point out examples where there’s evidence that it is all a money grab as much as anything else.

In Central New Jersey, suvh evidence has recently been uncovered.

In the closing months of 2010, it’s no secret that many municipalities struggled to close budget shortfalls.  Now we are learning that these same municipalities handed out more than 250,000 additional traffic ticerts to the tune of millions of dollars in fines and surcharges collected.  Some of the largest towns in the state doubled or tripled the number of traffic tickets issued.  A cynic might say drivers were simply used as a piggy bank as the year came to a close.

Of course, law enforcement officials respond predictably, saying they stepped up patrol to save lives, not close budget gaps.

There’s almost no way to refute what the police officials say.  Fewer fatal accident, fewer accidents overall, a belief that a visible increase in enforcement of minor issues like traffic tickets serves as deterrent to more serious property and violent crimes…it all makes sense.

However, we can also never refute the fact that more tickets equal more money.  When we see enforcement stepped up at the year end, and when we hear officers off the record tell us over and over how much of an emphasis is put on revenue generation, we’ll always wonder whether this really is about safety.

Years ago there was an NYC officer who gave ticket after ticket at the same flashing red light. It was midblock at a crosswalk in a busy part of the city. It was an unusual place for a flashing light so many drivers would miss it. Every time this officer testified and mentioned how hazardous the situation was–and I agree that it was–I would work in a question about why he stood behind a building corner 50 feet off the roadway instead of getting right up there by the crosswalk and the flashing light. If he was there to make the condition less hazardous, I wanted to know how hiding behind a building was helping to accomplish that. If someone sent me to a school to make a crosswalk safer for the pedestrians there to use it, would I hide behind the school or a shrub or get right up there, wear bright clothing and physically gesture to motorists that they must stop? The line of questioning was technically irrelevant because it didn’t address the main issue of whether the driver stopped at the flashing red, but I could never resist the chance to point out the absurdity in court.

The reality is that revenue generation can never be completely separated from traffic tickets. Whether traffic tickets are issued to generate revenue or revenue generation is some unintended consequence of enforcement, traffic tickets do indeed generate some revenue. You can’t really talk one without the other. People can debate whether tickets are about revenue or safety all they want but it’s really always a mix of both. The percentages may change based on certain factors like the economy, time of month or year or how hazardous a particular traffic condition is, but tickets and enforcement will never be about just one or the other.

The original article I read on this New Jersy issue can be found here:  For Money Or For Safety?

Scott Feifer