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School-zone speeding brings excuses and fines

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By Brian Beckley-The Courier-Herald

One by one they stepped up to plead their case and one by one they were shown a photograph of their car speeding through a school zone as the first wave of hearings over the city's new speeding ticket program reached the court.

Some offered excuses. Some questioned the placement of the “photo enforced” signs, or the change from “when children are present” to 𔄞 a.m. to 6 p.m.”

And some just wanted to voice their opposition to the program.

But all left with a fine.

Since mid-September, Nestor Traffic Systems of Providence, R.I, has been monitoring school zones in Bonney Lake, taking photographs of cars that are speeding and sending tickets to the owners.

During the two-week warning period, more than 3,000 citations were issued, but since Sept. 27, each violation costs speeders $101.

The tickets are not reported to the driver's insurance company and are not considered a moving violation. Instead, they are treated like parking tickets.

Some drivers racked up multiple violations, some on the same day. One defendant had five tickets on the docket.

In all, 65 drivers with a total of 86 tickets were on the docket Thursday to plead their case before Bonney Lake Judge James Helbling.

Helbling dutifully listened to them all, but the judgment was the same each time: Each first offense was reduced to $50, $75 for second offenses and full price for anything else.

April Stroalser of Bonney Lake was tagged for doing 29 mph in a 20 mph zone. She hoped her clean driving record and story would be enough to get her ticket dropped.

Stroalser said she was rushing to pick up her daughter from school. Visions of her daughter in tears, which happened in the past when she was late to pick her up, caused her to speed, she told the court.

“I wasn't paying attention to my speed that day,” she said.

Like all the others, the ticket stood, but with a reduced fine.

Many drivers complained about the change in language on the sign from “when children are present” to 𔄞 a.m. to 6 p.m.” but Helbling said even if they were in he school, the children were still present. He used a formula to calculate stopping distance to explain what the variance in their speeds meant.

“At 20 mph it would take you 30 feet to stop. At 27 it would take you over 40 feet, that's the difference,” the judge told one woman.

Others came in simply to protest the entire program, which one man called “un-American.”

“I'm here because I feel this manor of law enforcement is completely unreasonable,” he told the judge.

“Whether I like it or I don't like it, that isn't the issue. My job is to interpret the law,” Helbling responded, reminding the defendant that the decision to enroll in the program was made by the City Council.

Traffic officer Vince Sainati, who sat in on the hearings, said the program, though unpopular, appears to be effective so far, partially because it catches everyone who speeds through the city's three school zones.

“We've seen a drastic reduction in the number of violations we process on a daily basis,” he said, estimating an 80 percent drop around the high school.

Stroalser said the ticket has certainly proven to be effective in reducing her speed, especially through school zones.

“I'm going very slow through every school zone,” she said.

Brian Beckley can be reached at bbeckley@courierherald.com.

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