Slow down! Traffic fines increasing

JOSEPH TURNER; The News Tribune
Published: June 3rd, 2007 01:00 AM

A typical speeding ticket is going to cost you $124, beginning in late July.

The fine, which had been $101 as recently as last month, is going up in two stages because of the Washington Supreme Court and the Legislature.

On April 30, the Supreme Court raised the fine by $11. That’s $6 to keep pace with inflation and $5 to help pay for a $50 million upgrade for a computer system that connects every court in the state.

“The court does it with great reluctance,” said Chief Justice Gerry Alexander. “We don’t like to do it just for the fun of it. We know those fees are taxing people through traffic tickets, and we’re not doing that unless we think inflation has justified the increase.”

The second increase will take place July 22, the effective date of two laws passed by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Chris Gregoire.

Lawmakers created an auto theft prevention program and slapped a $10 increase on most traffic tickets to pay for the program.

They also created a program to give support to people with traumatic brain injuries and their families, and they imposed a $2 surcharge on traffic tickets to raise money for the program.

The $124 fine will be for driving 6 to 10 mph over the speed limit. It also will apply to such infractions as running a stop sign or traffic light, following too closely, failing to signal, driving the wrong way on a one-way street, crossing a double yellow line, driving with an expired license or no license, using faulty equipment, and making improper lane changes, passes or turns.

Talking on a cell phone without a hands-free device will carry a $124 fine when that law takes effect in mid-2008.

The assessments also will be levied on many other traffic violations, whose fines now range as high as $1,050 (failing to yield to an emergency vehicle).

In 2006, officers wrote 1,018,308 traffic tickets that resulted in $110 million in fines, according to the state Administrative Office of the Courts.

Butch Stussy, state courts administrator, said he asked the justices to increase the ticket fee partly to keep pace with inflation and partly to help pay for an upgrade to the 25-year-old Judicial Information System.

That computer system is a database that contains conviction, charges and arrest information that can be used by any judge in the state, and to compile criminal justice statistics.

“If municipal court judges in Fife want to get information on the person standing before them, most of the judges have a computer on the bench,” Alexander said.

But it’s an old system.

“The technology is so archaic that it’s difficult to make changes, considering the Legislature makes changes every time they meet,” Stussy said. “The new technology will make us more nimble and able to respond more quickly.”

He hopes to select a computer firm and start negotiating a contract in July, and roll out the computer system in January 2008.

Stussy’s office estimates the computer upgrade will cost $50.3 million over the next four years.

Joseph Turner: 253-597-8436

Where your ticket fines will go

Ticket fines for a standard traffic infraction will rise to $124 on July 22.

AmountWho gets itHow it’s spent

$44.43City or countyGenerally for court operations, police

or prosecutors

$0.79City or countyTo help crime victims.

$44.78State Public Safety Traffic safety programs such as “Click It or

and Education AccountTicket” seat belt enforcement campaign

$17.00Judicial Information SystemComputer system that allows every court

in the state to access records

$5.00Emergency Medical Services Payments to hospitals that treat people

and Trauma Carewithout insurance

$10.00Auto Theft Prevention AccountTo investigate and prosecute car theft cases.

$2.00Traumatic Brain Injury AccountTo create a support network and public

awareness campaign for victims of brain injury.

TOTAL$124.00Source: Washington Administrative Office of the Courts