Motorists 18 and younger who commit traffic violations in Suffolk County — such as speeding — will be sent to the newly created Youth Traffic Court, where they could receive leniency in exchange for participating in a diversion program, officials said Friday.
The idea behind the initiative is to teach teens to become safe drivers, said Paul Margiotta, executive director of the county’s Traffic and Parking Violations Agency.
“The punishment does nothing to teach them how to drive better,” Margiotta said at a news conference in Hauppauge. “So, we give up the punishment part for the education part.”
The program requires a parent to come to court with the teen and take part in the class, which officials said could be eight hours long.
Youth Traffic Court, which officials said is the first of its kind in New York, started operating last month. Margiotta said court is in session on the second Friday of every month in Hauppauge.
Between 2012 and 2014, there were 34,000 new driver’s licenses issued in Suffolk, Margiotta said. He said they were mostly young drivers hitting the roads for the first time.
Each year, more than 5,000 teens are involved in motor vehicle crashes in Suffolk, representing about 17 percent of all crashes in the county, according to Margiotta and Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone.
Of New York’s 62 counties, Suffolk has the highest number of fatal crashes involving teens, said Rachel Lugo, an advocate for highway safety from the Hauppauge-based EAC Network. She said Suffolk also has the lowest rate of seat-belt usage.
“Suffolk County has the most dangerous roads,” Lugo said.
In New York, a 17-year-old can obtain a driver’s license, provided he or she completes a driver education class. New drivers are on probation for the first 6 months, and if they commit a three-point moving violation — such as running a red light or blowing through a stop sign — their license is automatically suspended.
If a young offender gets a ticket for a moving violation, Margiotta said a prosecutor in Youth Traffic Court could offer to reduce it to a non-moving violation, provided that the teen and the teen’s parent complete the diversion program.
“We want to ensure young drivers do not become repeat offenders,” Bellone said.