Long Island’s roads can be dangerous and infuriating. They also can be very expensive, and for some drivers, a big part of that cost is traffic tickets. But are those tickets really about making the roads safer, or just easing the finances of villages, towns and counties that issue them? The answer is both.
There clearly are municipalities that have turned tickets into big revenue sources, and both Suffolk and Nassau counties need the money they collect from traffic citations, as do some towns and villages. A recent Newsday report estimated that $146 million in traffic court fines and fees were collected on Long Island in 2017.
But just imagine how many people would drive more recklessly if the inconvenience and cost of such tickets did not hang over their heads.
Red-light camera tickets are levied on vehicle owners regardless of who is driving, and don’t include points. But the way many municipalities sometimes handle other tickets — letting people plead guilty to lesser charges and pay big fines without getting points on their licenses — deceives the state and insurance companies, and protects dangerous drivers. If you get 11 points or have three speeding convictions in an 18-month period, your driver’s license is normally suspended. And drivers who get points see insurance rates go up to reflect that they are higher risks.
But when motorists plead to lesser charges, it means no trials. It also means the state is denied the surcharges it gets for more serious violations, often nearly $100 per offense.
Tickets are not strictly a money grab; they also help keep our streets safe. But plea deals that induce drivers to pay up and let municipalities keep all the money while denying the state and insurance companies information about dangerous drivers? They’re just money grabs, and dangerous ones at that. — The editorial board