Wednesday, November 25, 2009

My Saint Paul Minnesota speeding ticket – emergent solutions to emergent consequences

A few weeks back I got my first ticket in over 12 years, for speeding on a notoriously deceptive stretch of highway 35E (it even has a Wikipedia reference under speed limits). For a week or two around the time I was dinged that stretch of road showed caught cars every time I passed.

There were, of course, lots of mitigating factors, but the biggest one was that I’m really dependent on cruise control and mine broke about a month ago. Probably from overuse.

Once upon a time, if you had an average income, a speeding ticket was an painful annoyance. Then it began to dramatically increase insurance costs. Later, as the world became more risk-adjusted and networked, speeding ticket questions began to show up on applications for life insurance, foster care, and I suspect, many more forms.

So the secondary costs of a modern speeding ticket are much higher than the list price. I decided to poke around rather than pay immediately.

Google and the rest were not helpful. This search topic turns up mostly misinformation (it will be interesting to see if this post helps!). The searches did bring up ads for various legal services, and my first instinct was to pay for some professional advice. The more I looked, however, the less savory that industry seemed. In the end I decided to “contest” the ticket. This is the story of what I saw of the system, and how an “emergent” solution was developed to the secondary costs of speeding tickets.

There’s a common myth that when you contest a ticket you appear before a judge along with the accusing officer. At this time you can supposedly argue about radar technologies and so on, but if the officer doesn’t show up your citation will be waived. That’s not how it works in Saint Paul.

You phone a number (no web) on the ticket and you’re given a hearing date with an administrative official. You can change the date; I had to due to a travel conflict. If you run late there’s an extra $5 late fee. (I think you can “appeal” this decision and end up in a real courtroom, but I didn’t go that far.)

The hearings take place on 15 West Kellogg, in the city court house. It’s an imposing structure with a vast ceiling and black marble columns bearing the names of dead warriors. It reminded me of a scene from the movie Brazil.

I joined about ten others sitting in a mildly gloomy room. There’s a display showing names and appointments, on which my name did not appear. Turns out that’s for the court, not for traffic citation. Most everyone else there seemed to know what to do; at around 8am a set of metal windows crash upwards and you cue up for a hearing slot.

Despite being last in line I was called in at my appointed time. I’d rehearsed my responses, but this was the complete discussion: “The speeding was an accident, I have a good record …” “You mean you were accidentally speeding?” “Yes". “Give me your license”.

The system, it turns out, has developed a solution to the problem of the increasingly heavy consequences of a speeding ticket. The solution was that I agreed to pay $188 (I don’t know how the total was calculated, it might be more than the ticket price) and the citation, for the moment, no longer exists. If I get another ticket in the next year it will restored and I will have to pay both. So local government gets at least the money the ticket would have generated, and if I make another mistake they get double the money. On the other hand, I don’t bear the secondary consequences of a modern citation.

An emergent solution to a modern dilemma. Fascinating.


Anonymous said...

I just got my first ticket in ten years..and have been trying to get some information on this administration fee to get the ticket off my record.cant find a damn thing on line..the operators for from the numbre you call are SO IMPATIENT and UNHELPFUL..customer service two thumbs down. Good to know I shouldnt be late to my hearing..

Anonymous said...

oh your blog is helpful..first hit I got back when trying to search for some infor on the topic - thanks for that :)

Anonymous said...

This is very helpful. I received my first ever speeding ticket in Bloomington a few weeks ago. My hearing officer date is not until early June (they are backed up three plus months in Hennepin County). I am just hoping for a similiar first time offender punishment myself.