Take your foot off the gas and save cash

Sum­mer hol­i­days end­ing for school-zone speed lim­its

Winnipeg Free Press - - NEWS - GOR­DON SIN­CLAIR JR.

IT was this time last year when a driver of my ac­quain­tance — who was un­aware the school zone speed limit was in ef­fect even though stu­dents weren’t back in class — got tagged with a pricey photo-radar ticket.

And beat it.

The en­force­ment of school-zone lim­its on the 2016 Labour Day week­end can be de­scribed only as a blitz.

On Wed­nes­day, at my re­quest, the Win­nipeg Po­lice Ser­vice went to the trou­ble of com­pil­ing the num­ber of photo-radar tick­ets is­sued over last year’s ex­tra-long long week­end. The 30 km/h limit be­gan on Sept. 1, as the by­law dic­tates.

A to­tal of 2,484 such tick­ets were is­sued in a mere three days.

Last year, stu­dents didn’t go back to school un­til Tues­day, Sept. 6. That meant photo-radar vans could op­er­ate on the pre­ced­ing Thurs­day, Fri­day and Mon­day when, judg­ing by the num­ber of tick­ets, most driv­ers were still in sum­mer-holiday driv­ing mode. Or they thought re­duced speeds in school zones started when school re­sumed.

Why am I telling you this now? For a cou­ple of rea­sons, start­ing with the most ob­vi­ous and im­por­tant:

It’s the time of year to of­fer a first warn­ing.

Po­lice traf­fic of­fi­cers and pho­toradar vans again will en­force 30 km/h school zone lim­its as of Fri­day, Sept. 1, even though the kids aren’t back in school un­til Tues­day. This means driv­ers who have been school-zoningout all sum­mer do­ing 50 km/h are apt to for­get to slow down and could get tagged on Fri­day and the Labour Day Mon­day.

Any­way, as I said, con­sider this your first warn­ing be­cause — while there is no of­fi­cial grace pe­riod — if a cop in­stead of a photo-radar van catches you speed­ing this week­end in a school zone, you might get lucky and re­ceive a warn­ing.

“It’s up to their dis­cre­tion,” Staff

Sgt. Rob Rif­fel of the Win­nipeg Po­lice Ser­vice’s Cen­tral Traf­fic Unit said.

Not only is there room in these early back-to-school days for po­lice dis­cre­tion, there’s a ben­e­fit for po­lice giv­ing you a break, too. Rif­fel refers to it as “pos­i­tive in­ter­ac­tion” be­tween cops and what I’ll call cyn­i­cal cit­i­zens, who be­lieve traf­fic en­force­ment in these cir­cum­stances sim­ply is a cash grab. But po­lice dis­cre­tion will go only so far this long week­end. What if po­lice catch you driv­ing over 30 km/h in a school zone when it’s ob­vi­ous kids are in the play­ground, even though classes aren’t back? What do cops do then?

“I would ex­pect them to prob­a­bly is­sue a ticket,” Rif­fel said.

“If it’s an aban­doned school zone and we’re re­ally just out there try­ing to get peo­ple to com­ply with it for prepa­ra­tion for school to be in ses­sion, then ob­vi­ously that could be a time when we would give some­one a warn­ing. But as long as there’s an in­ter­ac­tion and we’re get­ting peo­ple to get back con­di­tioned to the school zone, that’s our ul­ti­mate goal.”

That sounds rea­son­able.

Of course, photo-radar en­force­ment has no dis­cre­tion — al­though it ap­pears our backed-up traf­fic court is be­ing forced to show dis­cre­tion when driv­ers de­cide to plead not guilty.

“Yeah they’re try­ing to clear up that back­log,” Rif­fel said. “The bot­tom line is there just isn’t enough phys­i­cal space and time to do ev­ery­body who’s plead­ing not guilty. But I know they’re work­ing on it.”

Which brings us back to my friend who beat his pho­toradar ticket. As it hap­pened, the car owner’s fa­ther started by tak­ing the ticket to traf­fic court last fall, shortly after his daugh­ter re­ceived it. The Crown at­tor­ney im­me­di­ately of­fered a deal. Plead guilty and he would slash the fine to $125.

But the driver’s fa­ther said no, he was go­ing to fight it on her be­half. And with that a court date was set for early Jan­uary 2018. Time ticked slowly on in traf­fic court. Then, last July — 10 months after re­ceiv­ing the photo-radar speed­ing ticket — another piece of mail ar­rived from Man­i­toba Jus­tice.

“Please be ad­vised,” the form let­ter be­gan, “the Crown will be drop­ping the al­le­ga­tion(s) which was is­sued against you or your reg­is­tered ve­hi­cle as reg­is­tered owner. What this means is that the pros­e­cu­tion will no longer oc­cur and you no longer have to at­tend your trial date. There will be no find­ing of guilt or re­spon­si­bil­ity in any way reg­is­tered against you as it re­lated to this ticket(s); you no longer have any re­quire­ment to pay any of the rec­om­mended fines listed on the ticket: and the mat­ter is now closed.”

Chances are that wasn’t the only form let­ter Man­i­toba Jus­tice dis­patched this year as a re­sult of last year’s Labour Day week­end ticket blitz.

So — given the ac­knowl­edged back­log of traf­fic court cases in gen­eral — I asked if the jus­tice depart­ment de­cided to do a mass stay­ing of charges for those who pleaded not guilty to the school-zone tick­ets from last year.

“No,” was the an­swer from a spokesper­son.

But the spokesper­son also emailed her own warn­ing, of sorts, about the up­com­ing Labour Day week­end.

“We en­cour­age driv­ers to re-fa­mil­iar­ize them­selves with the lo­ca­tions of re­duced-speed school zones be­fore Septem­ber 1.”

Oh, yes, and I should re­mind you that just around the cor­ner we have another holiday week­end when photo-radar vans will be work­ing.

Thanks­giv­ing Day.

Hav­ing said all that, let me leave you with a ques­tion.

Isn’t it time, for the sake of the safety of our kids who use school play­grounds be­yond school hours, that we sim­ply make ev­ery day and ev­ery school zone a re­duced speed area?

That would end the con­fu­sion.

And those whop­ping 2,484-ticket long week­end wal­let grabs.

A traf­fic ticket wind­fall

THE num­ber of school-zone speed­ing tick­ets is­sued by photo radar vans over the 2016 Labour Day long week­end:

Thurs­day, Sept. 1: 710 Fri­day, Sept. 2: 742 Mon­day Sept. 5: 1,032 To­tal: 2,484

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