'Speed trap' tickets are tossed
By Frank Gluck
Published: Thursday, September 25, 2008 at 1:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, September 25, 2008 at 1:47 a.m.
MANATEE COUNTY - Four drivers had speeding tickets thrown out this week after a judge agreed with their lawsuit that said a school zone on State Road 70 in East Manatee was improperly labeled and had become a "speed trap."
The suit against the state Department of Transportation revolved around a school zone on S.R. 70 at River Club Boulevard where many drivers have received tickets.
The judge's ruling could be good news for scores of other drivers who are part of a class-action lawsuit against the state that alleges they were improperly ticketed in the school zone. Some of the tickets were for as much as $500.
The speed limit drops quickly from 50 mph to 20 mph on the multilane highway at the intersection near Braden River elementary and middle schools when school starts or lets out.
All four drivers whose tickets were thrown out were driving between 42 mph and 55 mph in the 20 mph zone, court records show.
But Manatee County Judge Mark D. Singer ruled Monday that the four were not guilty of the speeding offense because school zone signs did not follow DOT policies.
Palmetto attorney Donald Grieco, who represents the four, has also filed the separate class-action suit against the DOT on that basis. He said the ruling clearly bolsters his class-action case.
"This is a big victory," Grieco said. "Those signs are placed improperly according to their own design manual."
DOT spokeswoman Lauren Hatchell said Wednesday she could not comment on the ticket dismissals because the class-action suit is still pending.
The school zone is marked on the roadway pavement and by ground signs -- flashing and non-flashing -- on both sides of S.R. 70.
Drivers have complained that the existing ground-based signs are too small, too close to the speed zone and difficult to see when traffic is heavy. When approaching at 50 mph, the warning signs indicate a school zone is ahead, but by the time drivers reach the blinking light, they are already in the school zone and should have slowed down to 20 mph.
The signs, located 100 feet from River Club Drive, comply with 2004 transportation guidelines, DOT spokeswoman Cindy Clemmons-Adente told the Herald-Tribune in July.
According to 2006 rules, school zone signs should be 200 feet away, but the DOT is not required to change them, Clemmons-Adente said at the time.
Judge Singer determined that DOT policy also calls for overhead flashing lights on multilane highways, something the DOT argued would block the traffic signals at the S.R. 70-River Club intersection.