Take your foot off the gas and save cash
Summer holidays ending for school-zone speed limits
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.
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