ORIGINALLY WRITTEN CYNTHIA MARTENS
The message from officials at the Marion County Sheriff’s Office is blunt and to the point. Many traffic accidents in Kansas and Marion County occur when drivers are traveling over the posted speed limit or too fast for existing road and weather conditions.
“It’s important to have laws restricting speed on the highways to reduce the traffic crashes and the severity of the traffic crashes that do occur from that,” said Undersheriff Randal Brazil with the Marion County Sheriff’s Office.
Thanks to the laws and efforts by law-enforcement personnel, the number of area traffic accidents have actually decreased in recent years.
“Our major accidents are down,” Brazil said.
“Years ago, we used to have a major accident or something about every week, but those have come down quite a bit. I think it’s because of enforcement. We’re out there working the roads, and people are paying more attention. They know law enforcement is out there, and they better watch it.”
Of the 12 years he’s been involved in law enforcement, Brazil has been with the sheriff’s office for the past eight years.
In addition to administrative duties overseeing the sheriff’s office, he patrols Marion County. “I patrol the small towns, the highways and county roads,” Brazil said.
On his patrols, he issues tickets and warnings for a variety of infractions, such as speeding, driving under the influence, failing to stop at stop signs and not using blinkers.
“But the majority is probably speeding,” he said.
Brazil’s patrol car is a 2001 Ford Crown Victoria with lights on the inside instead of the typical bar across the top. The sheriff’s office logo is on the sides. As a rule, Marion County does not operate with unmarked cars, he said.
Speed limits are posted
Regarding the speed limits in Marion County, Brazil said state and federal highways are posted 65 mph. County roads, unless otherwise posted, are 55 mph. If a county road is not posted, it’s still 55 mph by law. An unposted county road is not an excuse to speed.
“The Marion County Sheriff’s Office writes up between 500 and 1,000 tickets a year,” Brazil said. “That includes traffic violations, speeding and DUIs.”
About 100 speeding tickets are written each month.
When to write a ticket
The decision to pull a car over for speeding depends on the circumstances. “Every officer is different on what speed they stop people,” Brazil said.
“I realize people are going to drive three to five miles over sometimes. Stay at or around the speed limit, and you should be all right. But, for the most part, if the speed limit is 65, I would travel 65, because you could be stopped at 68. I’m not saying you’ll get a ticket, but you might get a warning.”
Brazil said the difference between a warning and a ticket is a warning does not include fines or go on a driving record.
“It’s just a reminder for you to stay at or around the speed limit,” he said. “I probably write more tickets than warnings, but I do give out quite a few warnings, also. I would say I’m strict but yet fair.”
Brazil’s patrol car is equipped with Doplar Radar that includes a remote-control device and antennae located on the front and back of the vehicle.
“It can track vehicles coming at you, and it can track vehicles coming behind you” he said.
“In the cities, they’ve got the radar gun they can pull out and grab the target. But with this, you can do it in the stationary or moving mode.”
What to do when stopped
When pulled over by a law-enforcement officer, Brazil said to stay in the car and keep both hands visible to the approaching officer.
“Don’t make a lot of movements, and don’t grab for stuff,” he said.
“A lot of people will already be reaching for their glove box, getting their registration out. But the best thing to do is sit in your car with your hands on the steering wheel so the officer can see you.”
The officer will typically ask for a current driver’s license and ask if the address on the license is correct. With the driver’s license in hand, Brazil will return to the patrol car.
“I’ll run their license through Marion County Communications to see if it’s valid and see if there’s any warrants on the person,” Brazil said.
“Then, I check their tag to make sure it’s valid. I’ll either write them a ticket or give them a warning and give their license back to them.”
The ticket itself
If Brazil does write a ticket, he uses a five-part form, and the last copy is handed to the driver.
“If I write them a ticket, I tell them when it needs to be paid by and provide them with an envelope so they can mail it in if they want,” Brazil said. “Then I tell them, ‘When you pull out, watch for traffic and be careful.'”
On the front, the ticket includes information such as the driver’s name, address, driver’s license number, location where stopped, reason stopped, state statue number for the violation, speed clocked with radar and the officer’s signature.
The back of the ticket includes the fine and court costs and a choice of two boxes to check-either guilty or no contest. No contest is basically not admitting guilt but agreeing to pay the fine.
All speeding violations include an automatic $60 court cost, and the fine is determined by state guidelines.
“It’s all state mandated,” Brazil said. “A speed violation of 10 mph or less over the speed limit is $30 and goes up from there. You start with $30, and it increases. I had a guy north of Goessel on K-15 going 116 one day, and it cost him $550.”
Speeding violations mailed to the county courthouse are recorded with the Kansas Department of Revenue Driver Control in Topeka.
Drivers with a speeding violation and no other outstanding warrants or misdemeanors basically have three options upon receiving a speeding ticket. They can sign the back and mail in the fine and court costs, call the county attorney’s office and arrange for a diversion, or set a date to appear in court.
By signing and sending in the fine and court costs, the violation stays on record for three years.
Effect on insurance
Usually, one speeding violation within three years does not affect insurance premiums, but drivers should check with their insurance company to confirm the policy regulations, according to Susan Robson, Marion County attorney.
“And I also think it will depend on how fast over the speed limit you were going when you got the ticket,” Robson said. “If you were going 30 miles over, probably your insurance company is going to look at that differently than 20, 15 or 10.”
Cleansing a driving record
To avoid a violation on record, ticketed drivers can choose to call the county attorney’s office and apply for a diversion.
“It’s $125 plus what’s on your ticket,” Robson said. “But, we look at your driving record and if you have more than two moving violations within the last 18 months, you’re not eligible. And, if you’re more than 20 miles over the speed limit, you’re not eligible.”
Brazil said, “Quite a few ask for a diversion, because they don’t want it to go on their driving record. It can make your insurance go up. And if you get three or four tickets in a year, you can lose your driver’s license.”
Drivers usually choose to go to court if they disagree that they were going the speed clocked by the officer. But Brazil said daily procedures include calibrating the radar equipment at the beginning and end of the day to assure and record accuracy.
“I’ve been in court quite a bit, but it’s not a lot,” Brazil said about the number of people contesting radar results.
Reactions to being pulled over and receiving a warning or ticket vary.
“People apologize, start crying, yell and cuss at you, throw the ticket out the window or throw it on the floor board of the car and speed off,” he said.
“In Marion County, for the most part, I would say people are very courteous and take the ticket. And if they’re out of line, it’s all on video through the car camera. You can hear them talking and see my actions.”
Although he doesn’t usually ask why a driver was speeding, Brazil has received his share of excuses over the years.
“I wish I had written a book about all the reasons,” he said. “They vary. Most people will say, ‘I didn’t realize I was driving that fast.’ A lot say they weren’t paying attention, or they were on the phone.”
Issuing warnings and tickets helps prevent accidents and slows down drivers going to fast on Marion County highways, Brazil said.
“I hardly ever have recurring tickets. You’ve got the troopers and deputies out there patrolling. Most of the time, people are more conscientious, and they realize they better slow down.”
ORIGINALLY WRITTEN CYNTHIA MARTENS