Motorists with a clean driving record ticketed in Essex County may soon get their tickets thrown out.

It will cost them $150 a ticket, but District Attorney Kristy Sprague said they'll get an outright dismissal instead of a reduction to a lesser charge.

The money will be divided between the town where the violation occurred and the county.

The new program, called eTraffic Diversion, is under consideration to go into effect Jan. 1, 2012, Sprague said.

"Many counties are beginning to adopt this type of program for first-time traffic offenders," she said.

"Are people buying their way out of tickets? No. This is for first-time offenders. We're requiring them to attend a driver-safety course. That's never been a requirement before."

MONEY STAYS LOCAL

The program won't include people who have driving-while intoxicated-arrests and license suspensions, she said, and motorists can only qualify every 18 months.

Sprague said the driver will have to obtain and submit a copy of his or her driving record and pay a $150 non-refundable fee.

"This $150 does not go to the DA's Office. The money would be divided between the county and town or however you want to divide it," she said.

The DA said drivers will be earning the reduction with rehabilitation, and they can take the driver-safety course online.

"The ticket will either be dismissed or prosecution is withdrawn," Sprague said. "We'll have a conversation with the (local justice) courts as to how that will be handled."

A couple of years ago, State Police stopped prosecuting tickets they issued, saying it was costing too much in overtime, so local DAs had to take over. But the state still retained most of the fines, with only $5 to $15 going to local municipalities.

"The money (from eTraffic) is going to stay locally," Sprague said.

NO COST TO SET UP

She said police issue about 23,000 tickets a year in Essex County. That's in contrast to about 29,500 in Clinton County, and 12,800 in Franklin County, according to 2009 statistics, the last year for which data is available.

"We have a huge amount of traffic tickets (proportionally) versus even Clinton County," Sprague said. "Say 20 percent are eligible; that's a huge amount of money that will stay locally."

What's also good is that the program will cost nothing to implement, The DA said. It will be handled by the assistant DA who handles traffic tickets now.

Most counties have a program that first-time traffic offenders can apply for to get tickets reduced to non-moving violations that don't accumulate points on a driver's license.

"The difference here is the ticket ends up being dismissed and no money goes to the state," County Manager Daniel Palmer said.

PROVIDES EDUCATION

Other nearby counties haven't gone to the eTraffic program yet but may be headed that way, Sprague said.

She outlined her plan to the Essex County Board of Supervisors Public Safety Committee this week, where it was met with a generally favorable reaction.

"The state is going to lose a lot of revenue. Has the state said anything about this?" said Supervisor Roby Politi (R-North Elba).

Sprague said the state's concern is that it does not want the district-attorney's offices to get the fee.

County Public Defender Brandon Boutelle said his office would not be involved with the new program.

"Our office doesn't provide representation for the type of traffic tickets Ms. Sprague was talking about," he said.

The Essex County Traffic Safety Department is supporting Sprague for recognizing the role of the justice system to educate, said Director of Community Resources Michael Mascarenas.

Most tickets are for speeding, and he said 27 percent of all Essex County crashes are a result of drivers traveling at unsafe speeds.

"That far exceeds any other contributing factor, including alcohol at 4.5 percent and driver inattention at 12.2 percent. The district attorney has come up with a unique program that not only holds offenders accountable, but also educates them on how to become better drivers."

Email Lohr McKinstry at: lmckinstry@pressrepublican.com

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